Aerial Warfare

Nigerian Air Force Confirms Leonardo M-346 Aircraft Deliveries for This Year

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Nigerian Air Force Confirms Leonardo M-346 Aircraft Deliveries for This Year

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Leonardo M-346FA advanced trainer and light combat aircraft
Leonardo M-346FA advanced trainer and light combat aircraft

The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) is set to welcome the delivery of six Leonardo-built M-346 advanced trainer and light combat aircraft by the conclusion of 2024. This confirmation follows an announcement made by the NAF via social media, indicating that Claudio Sebatino, Vice President of Marketing and Sales for Leonardo Aircraft’s Africa sub-Saharan region, has reaffirmed the company’s commitment to ensuring timely delivery during a recent visit. Under the contract with Leonardo, which includes a minimum 25-year maintenance and support agreement, the NAF anticipates the arrival of the first batch of these versatile aircraft by year-end. Originally designed as an advanced/lead-in fighter trainer, the M-346 boasts the flexibility to serve as a light combat aircraft, showcasing its adaptability to various mission requirements.

While it remains unclear which variant the NAF will receive, the assurance of long-term maintenance support provided by Leonardo has been warmly welcomed by the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), recognizing its pivotal role in sustaining operational readiness. Reflecting on the partnership’s journey, Air Marshal Abubakar expressed optimism for the future trajectory and emphasized the M-346’s operational impact in bolstering training capabilities and augmenting operational effectiveness across diverse mission scenarios. The prospect of close air support, air interdiction, tactical reconnaissance, and advanced pilot training capabilities inherent in the M-346 underscores a new era of operational versatility for the NAF.

Looking ahead, both parties are aligned on the importance of regular dialogue and collaboration, with plans to establish a dedicated Program Management Office to oversee all facets of the collaboration. Furthermore, the significance of Leonardo’s physical presence in Nigeria as a maintenance hub for its African clientele was reiterated, emphasizing the need for close coordination to ensure the expeditious delivery of the fleet. Recalling the Federal Government’s acquisition of 24 M-346 aircraft from Leonardo, this move signifies a pivotal step in the NAF’s ongoing modernization efforts. With the aircraft expected to arrive in four batches of six each, the first tranche is slated for delivery before the conclusion of 2024.

Leonardo has introduced a fighter-attack variant of the M-346, known as the M-346FA, which shares high commonality with the trainer model in terms of performance and powerplant. Multirole variant capable of air-to-air and air-to-surface combat with a 3 tonne payload spread over 7 hardpoints, advanced Grifo-M346 radar, countermeasures and stealth features including engine intake grids and radar-absorbing coatings on the canopy and wing leading edge. It is being marketed as a light combat aircraft also suitable for aggressor and companion training purposes. The aircraft is being marketed for export to South American and East Asian countries, and is claimed to be able to carry out operational missions at far lower costs than those of front-line fighters. It remained unclear which variant the NAF would receive.

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