The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) is set to elevate its capabilities with the recent delivery of the first batch of two TAI T-129 ATAK attack helicopters from Turkey. This significant development marks a substantial enhancement in Nigeria’s defence capabilities and is part of the country’s ongoing efforts to modernize its military and respond effectively to security threats.
The Turkish Air Force A400M cargo plane carrying the T-129 attack helicopters touched down at the NAF Headquarters Tactical Air Command in Makurdi, Benue State on November 1, 2023, following its departure from the TAI facility near Ankara.
The journey to acquire these advanced helicopters began in 2021 when the Nigerian Air Force expressed the need to strengthen its firepower through the acquisition of attack helicopters. Negotiations were subsequently held with several international manufacturers, including European-based Airbus, India’s HAL, and Turkey’s TAI (Tusas Engine Industries).
In 2022, Nigerian military leaders engaged with prominent Turkish defence companies to explore the acquisition of advanced military hardware. This engagement resulted in a contract for the procurement of six TAI T-129 ATAK helicopters being signed by Nigeria in July 2022, with an estimated unit price of $45 million.
Notably, the defence partnership between Nigeria and Turkey was formally initiated in October 2021 during the visit of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to Nigeria. This marks a significant milestone in bilateral relations, emphasizing the importance of cooperation between the two nations in the field of defense technology and operational efficiency.
To ensure the optimal utilization of the T-129 ATAK helicopters, Nigerian Air Force personnel embarked on training in Turkey in May 2023. The training program focuses on the operation and maintenance of these advanced helicopters and is expected to continue for several months.
The arrival of the T-129 ATAK helicopters is anticipated to play a pivotal role in Nigeria’s counterinsurgency operations and other defense activities. In this regard, Nigeria urged Turkey to expedite the delivery of these helicopters, highlighting their crucial role in bolstering the country’s security and counterterrorism efforts.
This acquisition complements Nigeria’s existing fleet of helicopters, which includes the Russian Mil Mi24/35 Hind and Agusta A109 Powers light attack helicopters. In addition to the Turkish T-129 ATAK helicopters, Nigeria is also set to receive 12 American AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters as part of a significant $875 million arms deal. These acquisitions will further enhance the country’s military capabilities. Also, the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) has initiated the retirement process for some of its aging Russian-made Mil Mi-24V/P attack helicopters.
The TAI T-129 ATAK is a versatile and highly maneuverable twin-engine attack helicopter developed under a license from the Italian-British company AgustaWestland, now known as Leonardo Helicopters. It is based on the A129 Mangusta and is designed to excel in challenging operational conditions, making it an ideal choice for Nigeria’s counterinsurgency efforts. Beyond counterterrorism operations, the T-129 ATAK is well-suited for a wide range of missions, including border patrol, search and rescue, and fire support.
The delivery of these advanced helicopters is a momentous step forward for the Nigerian Air Force, enhancing its aerial firepower and operational capabilities. In the coming years, Nigeria is also poised to receive various other Turkish-made defense equipment, such as Bayraktar TB2 drones and armored vehicles, as part of its ongoing efforts to modernize and strengthen its military capabilities.
As Nigeria continues to invest in advanced military technology and equipment, the country is taking proactive steps to address its evolving security challenges effectively. The T-129 ATAK helicopters are a tangible manifestation of Nigeria’s commitment to safeguarding its sovereignty and ensuring the safety and security of its citizens.