Despite denials and controversy from Italian Leonardo, it appears that Nigeria ordered the M-346FA fighter, attack, and trainer aircraft to replace its 13-strong fleet of Alpha Jet ground-attack aircraft in an estimated $1.2 billion deal.
According to Mr. Ashibel P. Utsu the Director of Air Force affairs,for the Federal Ministry of Defence (MoD), who told the local media on Thusday 26 August, twenty-four aircraft were ordered, with twelve expected to arrive this year, and the rest by next year.
The M346FA is a multi-role light-weight fighter designed by Italian Leonardo, capable of various missions like deployed in ground support roles, air-to-ground attack, tactical close air support (CAS), counter-insurgency (COIN), and interdiction with precision-guided munitions
The aircraft is well suited for pilot training as a lead in flight trainer (LIFT), air policing, tactical reconnaissance, and airspace control missions.
Equipped with the multi-mode Grifo-M346 radar, and features seven external hardpoints which can be fitted an extensive variety of air-to-air and air-ground weapons, as well as electronic warfare, targeting, and reconnaissance pods.
Leonardo denies Nigerian M-346FA buy
Details of this particular deal surfaced earlier in March, at that time, Leonardo denied media reports from Nigeria that the African country had ordered the M-346FA light attack aircraft.
Leonardo stated that the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) is only looking with interest to the M-346 and that the aircraft had only been selected by Greece as part of a trainer aircraft deal with Israel.
Replacing NAF’s Alpha jets
NAF intends to continue its fruitful relationship with the Italian manufacturer Leonardo after previous orders for C-27J Spartan, AW109, AW139, and AW189 helicopters.
Replacing the Dassault Alpha jets is the goal for the new acquisition, seeing as several of them have been recently lost due to technical malfunction and ground anti-air fire.
The Alpha jets have been the main offensive platform for the Nigerian Air Force for several decades.