Nigeria confirms agreement with Leonardo for M-346FA aircraft

Nigeria Leonardo agreement M346
Italian Air Force T-346A (M-346) advanced trainer jet.

Nigeria is about to take a big step forward in the reorganization of the air force through the purchase of the Leonardo M-346 advanced trainer/light attack aircraft (See our previous analysis on this topic).

Speaking to a local TV, Mr Ashibel P. Utsu, Director Air Force Affairs, Federal Ministry of Defense, confirmed that they have finalized an agreement with Leonardo to purchase up to 24 M-346FA fighter aircraft with the delivery of a first batch of twelve this year.

"The Air Force got approval of the federal government to get 24 Fighter Attack aircraft, this is called M-346. It is unprecedented in the history of this country. We have already signed an agreement for the supply of twelve and are waiting to getting twelve soon this year and the remaining ones will be supplied hopefully next year," Utsu said.

Despite the inconsistencies on delivery times (the purchase order has not yet been signed), this preliminary agreement confirms the nation's aim to upset the balance of the air force in the area and mount a credible offensive air threat in the region.

The M-346 is intended to replace the Alpha Jet aircraft which has been the backbone of the NAF combat fleet since the 1980s. In recent years the Alpha Jets have conducted several combat operations across the country, along with the F7-NI and L-39ZA Albatros attack jets.

The M-346FA is a multi-role light-weight fighter able to cover air-to-surface, air-to-air and tactical reconnaissance missions. It is equipped with a multi-mode Grifo-M346 radar, and features seven external hardpoints which can carry an extensive variety of air-to-air and air-ground weapons, as well as electronic warfare, targeting, and reconnaissance pods. In addition, it retains all the capabilities of the baseline advanced trainer.

With the purchase of all 24 aircraft, Nigeria would become the second largest user of the type.

After Turkmenistan, more and more nations are interested in purchasing the M-346FA. It is capable of providing performance similar to that of a 20/30 ton class fighter, but with lower acquisition and operating costs. There are currently many air forces that need to modernize their combat fleet while suffering large spending cuts.

Leonardo is also pushing its LCA in Poland as a replacement for the Su-22. Although Warsaw has already selected the F-35 to replace the Sukhoi, the M-346FA could operate in place of the more expensive fifth generation fighters where high performance is not required. The F-35/M-346 combination would help the nation contain operating costs.

Written by Matteo Sanzani
Image: Italian Air Force

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