Nigeria is set to receive twenty-four M-346 Master aircraft from Italian aircraft maker Leonardo. It is not yet certain the exact variant of the M-346 Nigeria ordered for, either the basic version, the M-346FT (Fighter Trainer), or the M-346FA (Fighter Attack) variants.
The deal is reported to be worth an estimated €1.2 billion and will see the Italian jets replacing the aging Dassault Alpha jet A/E in use by the Nigerian Air Force (NAF).
The Nigerian Air Force confirmed the deal during a media interview by Mr. Ashibel P. Utsu the Director of Air Force affairs, for the Federal Ministry of Defence (MoD) on Thursday 26 August.
Twelve aircraft will arrive this year, and the rest in 2022. Nigerian-based defense contractor SecPro Africa, which will supply weapons, ammunition, and spare parts.
The M-346 was co-developed with Yakolev Design Bureau as YAK/AEM-130 before the Italian co-manufacturer Alenia Aermacchi proceeded to separately develop the M-346 Master.
In 2016, Alenia Aermacchi merged into the new Finmeccanica and subsequently rebranded as Leonardo in 2017.
Leonardo will provide aircraft, training, support, and munitions for Nigeria as part of a sole-source contract. And as part of a partnership with the Italian Air Force, will train the Nigerian Air Force pilots at the International Flight Training School of Galatina (Lecce) and Decimomannu airbase (Sardinia).
The business will also see Elbit Systems and Rafael Advanced defense systems will supply avionics, PESA radar, and munitions.
The new M-346FA acquisition is part of NAF’s modernization drive, and will be used as a lead-in flight trainer (LIFT) for the new Chengdu PAC JF-17 fighter aircraft that were recently acquired, and will replace the venerable Alpha jet A/E on a one on one basis. NAF student pilots will move from the newly delivered A-29 Super Tucano to the M-346FA and then the JF-17 Thunders.
Nigerian Air Force set to replace Dassault Alpha Jets
The Alpha jets of the Nigerian Air Force which have been flying for several decades have started showing their age, with several crashing in quick succession. Although vastly upgraded, the Alpha jets are not designed for tactical close air support, since they have to fly close to the ground and within the firing envelope of ground-based anti-air weapons to deliver unguided bombs. An Alpha jet supporting troops with close air support was shot down by bandits in July this year.
Nigeria acquired 24 advanced trainers Alpha Jet, co-manufactured by Dassault of France and Dornier of Germany in the 1980s.
Leonardo denies M-346 sale to Nigeria
The Nigerian Air Force is leveraging on its excellent bilateral relations with the Italian manufacturer Leonardo after previous orders for C-27J Spartan, AW109, AW139, and AW189 helicopters.
This particular deal first came to light earlier this year, but Leonardo denied the acquisition, stating in March that Nigeria was “only looking with interest to the M-346” and that there was no firm order has been placed.
M-346 multi-mission aircraft
As a multi-mission aircraft, the M-346FA aircraft can be deployed in various roles including ground support, air-to-ground attack, close air support (CAS), and interdiction with precision-guided munitions.
It comes equipped with seven external hardpoints available for an extensive variety of air-to-air and air-ground weapons, reconnaissance, target designation, and electronic warfare pods.
The Italian jet is equipped with the multi-mode Grifo-M346 radar, an integrated Helmet Mounted Display (HMD) system, night vision goggle (NVG), voice command system, navigation and communications, and traffic collision avoidance system.
The cockpit features a digital glass cockpit for two pilots in tandem configuration, while the onboard four-channel fly-by-wire flight control system offers increased mission reliability and flight safety.