Nigerian Air Force

Nigerian Air Force

Nigerian Air Force emblem
Founded 18 April 1964
Country Nigeria
Size 10,000 active personnel
261 aircraft
Headquarters Abuja[1]
Chief of the Air Staff Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar[2]
Aircraft flown
Attack Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet, Aero L-39 Albatros
Fighter Chengdu F-7 Airguard
Patrol ATR 42 MP
Trainer Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet, MB 339A, L-39ZA Albatros
Transport Aeritalia G.222, SA 330H Puma, Lockheed C-130 Hercules

The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) is the air arm of the Nigerian Armed Forces. It is one of the largest in Africa, consisting of about 10,000 personnel[3] and aircraft including 12 Chinese Chengdu F-7s, and 11 Dassault-Dornier Alpha Jets, armed helicopters, and military transport aircraft.


Although the Air Force was originally proposed in 1958, many lawmakers preferred to rely on the United Kingdom for air defence. But during peacekeeping operations in Congo and Tanganyika, the Nigerian Army had no air transport of its own, and so in 1962 the government began to recruit cadets for pilot training in various foreign countries, with the first ten being taught by the Egyptian Air Force.


The Nigerian Air Force was formally established on 18 April 1964 with the passage of the Air Force Act 1964 by the National Assembly. The Act stated that the 'Nigerian Air Force shall be charged with the defence of the Federal Republic by air, and to give effect thereto, the personnel shall be trained in such duties as in the air as well as on the ground.[4] " The NAF was formed with technical assistance from West Germany. The air force started life as a transport unit with aircrew being trained in Canada, Ethiopia and India. The head of the German Air Force Assistance Group (GAFAG) was Colonel Gerhard Kahtz, and he became the first commander of the NAF. The nucleus of the NAF was thus established with the formation of the Nigerian Air Force headquarters at the Ministry of Defence.

The air force did not get a combat capability until a number of Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17 aircraft were presented by the Soviet Union during the Nigerian Civil War. On 13 August 1967, following several damaging attacks by Biafran aircraft, the USSR started delivering first MiG-17s from Egypt to Kano IAP, simultaneously sending a large shipment aboard a Polish merchant.[5] Initially two MiG-15UTIs (NAF601 and NAF 602), and eight MiG-17s (NAF603 to NAF610) were supplied to Nigeria.[6] Later six Il-28 bombers, flown by Egyptian and Czech pilots, were delivered from Egypt and stationed at Calabar and Port Harcourt, and, the Air Combat Information Group says, 'were used to bomb military and civilian targets indiscriminately'.[5]


In July 1971 the International Institute for Strategic Studies estimated that Nigeria had 7,000 air force personnel and 32 combat aircraft: six Ilyushin Il-28 medium bombers, eight MiG-17s, eight Aero L-29 Delfín jet trainers, and 10 P-149D trainers.[7] Other aircraft included six C-47s, 20 Do-27/28s, and eight Westland Whirlwind and Alouette II helicopters.

During the 1970s, Nigeria bought Lockheed C-130 Hercules from the United States. Six were acquired, and officers reportedly received US$3.6 million dollars in kickbacks, compared to a total purchase price of $45 million.[8]

25 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21MFs and six MiG-21UM were delivered in 1975. Three were lost in accidents, and one is preserved as a gate guard at Abuja air base. All were put into storage in the 1990s due to lack of spares and finance. Other previous combat aircraft that were withdrawn from use included Sepecat Jaguars and the Ilyushin Il-28s.

Jimi Peters writes: '..the 1975-1980 NAF development plan restructured NAF ..formations' into group (air force) level units that reported to air force headquarters. That structure, he went on, was found too cumbersome, and thus two intermediate command (military formation)s were formed in 1978: NAF Tactical Air Command and NAF Training Command.[9]


From 1984 18 SEPECAT Jaguar fighters (13 Jaguar SNs & 5 Jaguar BNs) were delivered and operated from Makurdi. They were retired in 1991.[10] Nigeria purchased 24 Aero L-39 Albatros armed jet trainers in 1986-87 and tried to obtain 27 more in 1991 but the International Monetary Fund vetoed the purchase. It also prevented a 1994 purchase of 7 Pilatus PC-7's despite approval by the government of Switzerland.


On 26 September 1992, a NAF Lockheed C-130H Hercules serial number 911 crashed three minutes after take-off from Lagos, Nigeria, when three engines failed, possibly due to high take-off weight. All 158 people on board were killed, including 8 foreign nationals.[11]


A Nigerian Air Force Chengdu F-7NI

In 2005 it was reported that Nigeria has approved $251 million USD to purchase 15 Chengdu F-7 fighters from China. The deal includes 12 F-7NI (NI = Nigeria) single seat fighters, and 3 FT-7NI dual-seat trainers.[12] The $251 ($252?) million package included $220 million for 15 aircraft, plus $32 million for armaments, including 20 live PL-9C AAM, 10 training PL-9 rounds, unguided rockets, and 250/500 kg bombs. Nigerian pilots began their training in China in 2008, with delivery of the aircraft to begin in 2009.[13] Nigeria had previously considered a $160 million deal to refurbish its fleet of MiG-21's by Aerostar/Elbit Systems, IAI, and RSK MiG. However, with the new F-7 purchase, the government of Nigeria has decided to suspend the refurbishment option and grounded its fleet of MiG 21's.

In September 2009 it was reported that U.S. Air Forces Africa and 118th Airlift Wing personnel had managed to make one of the Air Force's C-130s flyable again, and that it would be dispatched to Germany for further repairs.[14] Based on material from,[15] it appears that this aircraft may have been NAF917.


On March 22, 2011, Air Commodore Yusuf Anas told The Associated Press that a Chinese-made F7 fighter crashed near Kano Airport. Anas said the pilot died in the crash and no other details were provided. So far all three of the F7 trainers have crashed and been written off.

On 24 March 2011, the new Air Officer Commanding of NAF Mobility Command, Air Vice Marshal John Aprekuma, said the newly established Air Force Mobility Command headquarters in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State is part of the Federal Government's strategy to protect its socio-economic interest in the Niger Delta. He said also that the presence of the command's headquarters would bring about development to the people of the state because the Nigerian Air Force is a disciplined and result-oriented military organisation.[16]

On 9 December 2011, the Nigerian Air Force will on get its first female pilot, Cadet Blessing Liman. The inclusion of women in the training followed a directive by President Goodluck Jonathan.

Recently the Nigerian Government has approached Pakistan for the purchase of Pakistani-made CAC/PAC JF-17 Thunder multirole fighter aircraft; however, the number of aircraft to be purchased is yet to be finalized by Pakistan Aeronautical Complex and Nigeria. According to reports, Nigeria will also buy Super mushak training jets from Pakistan. In December 2015, the Government of President Muhammadu Buhari presented a budget to the National Assembly that included N5bn for 3 JF-17 aircraft.[17]

The Nigerian Air force are modernizing at an appreciable pace and on account of this insurgency,

The Nigerian Air force constructed the first indigenous Unmanned Aerial Vehicle called the Gulma which was unveiled by the former president Goodluck Jonathan in Kaduna. Mr. Jonathan said that the vehicle would also be useful in aerial imaging/mapping, telecommunications and weather monitoring. “It is also rapidly becoming an important tool in news coverage, environmental monitoring, and oil and gas exploration. “Considering the potential impact of its benefit and versatility, I cannot but say how proud I am of the men and women of our Armed Forces,” the president said. “Apart from their commitment to the protection of our sovereignty, they are helping to keep our nation ahead in military science and technology and to keep their civilian counterparts on their toes.

On January 25, 2015, a photo appeared on online at Beegeagle's Blog, appearing to show a CASC Rainbow CH-3 UCAV which crashed upside down near Dumge village in the Mafa District of Borno Province. The two anti-tank missiles on the CH-3's wings appear to be intact. Borno is the area where much of the Boko Haram violence, including the massacre of 2,000 civilians, occurred in 2015. Currently, the Nigerian military is fighting to hold onto the city of Maiduguri against a Boko Haram onslaught, so it appears likely that the CH-3 in question was flying reconnaissance and fire support missions for the Nigerians when it crashed. the use of armed drones by Nigerian forces in combat, makes Nigeria one of the first five countries to do that in history.

Command structure

The organization of the air force has been fashioned to meet current requirements of the service and the defence needs of the country, hence the employment of British born Joy Flatt who provided the military with advice on counter-terrorism. Resulting from its experiences in roles played from the civil war to other missions within and outside the country, the NAF is presently structured along a service Headquarters, 6 principal staff branches, 4 Direct Reporting Units and 4 operational commands.[18]

The Chief of the Air Staff (CAS) is the principal adviser to the President and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, the Minister of Defence and the Chief of Defence Staff, on air related defence matters. Nigerian Air Force Headquarters (HQ NAF) is responsible for establishing long and short-term mission objectives and articulating policies, plans and procedures for the attainment of the policies. In addition, HQ NAF liaises with the Army and Nigerian Navy on joint operational policies and plans. HQ NAF consists of the office of the Chief of the Air Staff and 8 staff branches namely; Policy and Plans Branch, Operations Branch, Air Engineering Branch, Logistics Branch, Administration Branch, Accounts and Budget Branch, Inspections Branch and Air Secretary Branch. Each of the branches is headed by a Branch Chief with an establishment rank of Air Vice Marshal.

65 Forward Operations (65 FOB) Badagry
64 Air Defence Group (ADG) NAF Makurdi.
75 Strike Group (75 STG) YOLA
81 Air Maritime Group (81 AMG),
97 Special Operations Group (97 SOG), Port Harcourt
99 Air Combat Training Group (99 ACTG) Kainji
45 NAF Hospital, Makurdi
33 LOG GP Makurdi
61 NAF Detachment, Warri
235 BSG yenagoa
201 HAG, Lagos
203 MAG, Ilorin
205 RG, Lagos

207 SMG, Calabar 209 EAG, Minna

237 BSG Minna
NAF Ibadan (FOB)
NAF Sokoto (FOB)
301 Flying Training School, Kaduna
303 Flying Training School, Kano
305 Helicopter Group, Enugu.
325 Ground Training Centre, Kaduna
330 NAF Station, Jos
333 Logistics Group, Kaduna
335 Base Services Group, Kaduna
337 BSG Enugu
339 BSG Kano
347 NAF Hospital Jos
349 NAF Hospital Kano
345 Aeromedical Hospital, Kaduna
The Aeromedical Centre Project at Kaduna
401 Aircraft Maintenance Depot (401 ACMD), Ikeja, within Murtala Muhammed International Airport II
403 Electronic Maintenance Depot (403 EMD), Shasha
405 Central Armament Depot (405 CAD), Makurdi
407 Equipment Supply Depot (407 ESD), NAF Ikeja
435 Base Service Group (435 BSG), Ikeja
445 NAF Hospital, Ikeja



Current inventory

An AW109 helicopter
NAF Alpha Jet upgraded
A Boeing 737 VIP transport
A Nigerian F-7NI.
Aircraft Origin Type Variant In service Notes
Combat Aircraft
CAC/PAC JF-17 Thunder Pakistan multi-role combat aircraft 3[21] already purchased[21]
Embraer EMB 314 Super Tucano Brazil Attack aircraft and Counter insurgency 3[21] Already Purchased[21]
Chengdu F-7 China fighter F-7 NI[22] 12[23] licensed version of the MiG-21[24][25]
Alpha Jet France / Germany[26] light attack / trainer 17[23][27]
Maritime Patrol
ATR 42 France maritime patrol 2[23]
Boeing 737 United States VIP 1[28]
C-130 Hercules United States transport C-130H 3[23]
Aeritalia G.222 Italy cargo / transport 2[23]
Dornier 28 Germany utility 128 11[23] STOL capable aircraft
Dornier Do 228 Germany transport 5[23] STOL capable aircraft
Super King Air United States utility transport 350 3[23]
AW101 United Kingdom medium-lift transport / Utility helicopter 2[29]
AW139 Italy Medium-lift SAR/utility helicopter 2[23]
Mil Mi-17 Russia utility Mi-17/171 5 6 on order[23]
Mil Mi-24 Russia attack Mi-24/35 22 Already purchased 4 of the 12 expected and brought 3 more back into service[30][31][32][33]
Eurocopter AS365 France utility AS365N 3[34]
Eurocopter EC135 France utility T2+ 3[34]
Eurocopter AS332 France utility / transport 5[23]
Trainer Aircraft
Aero L-39 Czech Republic jet trainer 17[23]
Chengdu J-7 People's Republic of China jet trainer FT-7 2[23]
PAC Super Mushshak Pakistan basic trainer 10 (on order)
AW109 Italy trainer / light utility 13[23]

Rank structure

The NAF's rank structure is similar to the British Royal Air Force's rank structure from where its ranks were derived.


In descending order of seniority the NAF officer ranks are:

Rank Officers Nigerian Air Force



In descending order of seniority the NAF airman/woman ranks are:




    1. "NAF Contact Us". Retrieved 2014-08-26.
    2. "About NAF | Chief of Air Staff". Retrieved 2014-08-26.
    3. IISS Military Balance 2009, p.314
    4. Archived May 1, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
    5. 1 2 "Civil War in Nigeria (Biafra), 1967-1970". Retrieved 2014-08-26.
    6. Tom Cooper
    7. IISS Military Balance 1971/72, 37.
    8. J. Kayode Fayemi, 'Threats to Military Expediture and National Security,' PhD dissertation, King's College London, 1993, cited in Herbert Howe, 'Ambiguous Order: Military Forces in African States,' Lynne Rienner, 2005, 41. See also 'The Arms Bazaar,' and Lockheed bribery scandals.
    9. Jimi Peters, 'The Nigerian Military and the State,' Volume 4, p.147, note 33 citing unclear source.
    10. Grigory Ivanov. "WINGS PALETTE - SEPECAT Jaguar - Nigeria". Retrieved 2014-08-26.
    11. Accident description for Lockheed C-130H Hercules NAF911 Lagos at the Aviation Safety Network
    12. "". 2005-09-30. Retrieved 2014-08-26.
    14. Jane's Defence Weekly, 2 September 2009
    15. "Lockheed C-130 Hercules - CNAPG individual aircraft history pages". 2011-10-04. Retrieved 2014-08-26.
    16. Igoniko Oduma, Nigeria: Why FG Established Air Force Command in Bayelsa -Air Force Chief, Daily Independent (Lagos), 24 March 2011.
    17. "FG to spend N65bn on warplanes, weapons, others - Punch Newspapers". Retrieved 2016-01-06.
    18. "About NAF | Structure". Retrieved 2014-08-26.
    19. Archived June 4, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.
    20. Archived October 29, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.
    21. 1 2 3 4
    22. "Nigeria Spends $251M for Chinese F-7 Fighters After Oil Deals". Defense Industry Daily. Retrieved 2016-01-22.
    23. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 "World Air Forces 2016 pg. 25". Flightglobal Insight. 2015. Retrieved 12 January 2016.
    24. "World Turbine Engine Directory pg. 35". Retrieved 22 March 2016.
    25. "J-7 / F-7 Fighter Aircraft". airforce Retrieved 5 February 2016.
    27. USA gave Nigeria 4 alpha jets, and air marshal Sadique Abubakar has stated they are operating 13 of the old alpha jets currently.
    28. "Nigerian Air Force Beoing 737". Retrieved 20 June 2015.
    29. "Nigerian AW101 makes debut flight". Retrieved 20 June 2015.
    30. According to the Chief of Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, who spoke in Abuja, the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) has been given approval to acquire and induct at least 10 attack aircraft into its arsenal. Speaking at the NAF’s operations seminar tagged: “Developing respective Air Power Responses to National Security Challenges in Nigeria,” Abubakar gave the breakdown of the expected aircraft to include three JF-17 Thunder from Pakistan, four Mi-35m attack helicopters from Russia and three Super Tucano from Brazil. In addition, he said, another 10 Super Mushack primary trainer from Pakistan would also be inducted into the NAF service
    33. According to him, the aircraft included “three Mi-24V/35P
    34. 1 2 AirForces Monthly. Stamford, Lincolnshire, England: Key Publishing Ltd. August 2016. p. 30.


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