Nigerian Air Force

The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) is the air branch of the Nigerian Armed Forces. It is the youngest branch of the Nigerian Armed Forces. It is one of the largest in Africa, consisting of about 15,000 personnel[4] and aircraft including 8 Chinese Chengdu F-7s, 12 Dassault-Dornier Alpha Jets, 3 JF-17 Thunder Block II and 12 Super Tucano aircraft, 24 M-346 FAs on order, Helicopter gunships, armed attack drones, and military transport aircraft.


Although an Air Force was originally proposed in 1958, many lawmakers preferred to rely on the United Kingdom for air defense. 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."[5] The NAF was formed with technical assistance from then West Germany (now Federal Republic of Germany following the re-unification of West and East Germany). The air force started life as a transport unit with the first aircrews 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 NAF did not acquire combat capability until several Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17 aircraft were presented by the Soviet Union in support of Nigeria’s war effort during the unfortunate 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 ship. Initially two MiG-15UTIs (NAF601 and NAF 602), and eight MiG-17s (NAF603 to NAF610) were supplied to Nigeria. Later six Il-28 bombers, initially flown upon deployment by Egyptian and Czech pilots, were delivered from Egypt and stationed at Calabar and Port Harcourt.


In July 1971, the International Institute for Strategic Studies estimated that NAF had 7,000 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. 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 at a total cost of $45 million. 25 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21MFs and six MiG-21UM were delivered in 1975 upon the advent of the Murtala-Obasanjo administration that replaced the regime of General Yakubu Gowon. Most of these aircraft were deployed, making the NAF one of the most formidable air forces in Africa during this period.

Jimi Peters wrote: '..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 commands (military formations) were formed in 1978: NAF Tactical Air Command and NAF Training Command.


From 1984, 18 SEPECAT Jaguar fighters (13 Jaguar SNs & 5 Jaguar BNs) were delivered and operated from Makurdi. They were retired in 1991. Nigeria purchased 24 Aero L-39 Albatros armed jet trainers in 1986-87, having retired its fleet of L-29s that were donated to the Republic of Ghana Air Force at the inception of the West African Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) operations in Liberia. A subsequent attempt to expand the fleet by acquiring 27 more in 1991 was not executed.


In 2005, under the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo, the Nigerian Parliament appropriated US$251 million to purchase 15 Chengdu F-7 fighter aircraft from China. The deal included 12 F-7NI (NI-Nigeria) single seat fighter variant, and 3 FT-7NI dual-seat trainer aircraft. The $251 million package included $220 million for 15 aircraft, plus $32 million for armaments: live PL-9C AAM, training PL-9 rounds, unguided rockets, and 250/500 kg bombs. The pioneer NAF pilots on the aircraft trained in China in 2008, while delivery of the aircraft began in 2009. (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, it was considered more cost effective to opt for acquiring the F-7s which were brand new. Nigeria also caused a modification of its variant of the F7, including installing some western equipment and avionics and hence its official designation as “F7-Ni” to reflect that its variant differs in some respect from a typical Chinese F-7. With this acquisition, her fleet of MiG 21's were subsequently grounded. The Federal Government of Nigeria under the same dispensation acquired some ATR Maritime Patrol aircraft for NAF, built by EADS and Finmeccania / Alenia Aeronautica, boosting the capacity of the service to carry out extensive Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions on land and far into the sea.

From September 2009, Nigeria began refurbishing some of its C-130 aircraft beginning with the NAF 917 which it brought back to life with the support of U.S. Air Forces Africa and 118th Airlift Wing. The NAF has subsequently further improved on its domestic capacity with the increase in serviceability of a good number of its transport aircraft.


The NAF designed and built its first indigenous UAV, the "Gulma," which was unveiled by former president Goodluck Jonathan in Kaduna, who, during that ceremony, acknowledged that the vehicle would also be useful in aerial imaging/mapping, telecommunications, and weather monitoring. According to him, the UAV was rapidly becoming an important tool in news coverage, environmental monitoring, and oil and gas exploration. The former President commended the men and women of the Nigerian Armed Forces, noting that the potential impact and versatility of the UAV underscored the commitment of the Nigerian military to the protection of the country’s sovereignty and for helping to keep the nation ahead in military science and technology.

On March 24, 2011, the new Air Officer Commanding of NAF Mobility Command, Air Vice Marshal John Aprekuma, explained the rationale behind the establishment of the headquarters of the newly established Air Force Mobility Command in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State as being part of the Federal Government's strategy to protect its socio-economic interest in the Niger Delta, affirming that the presence of the command's headquarters would bring about security and calm to the people of the State.

On December 9, 2011, the Nigerian Air Force commissioned its first female pilot, Blessing Liman, following a directive to the NAF hierarchy by former President Goodluck Jonathan, for the service to start offering flying opportunities to qualified Nigerian female citizens, especially since women had long been flying civil aviation aircraft in the country but did not get a chance to fly in the military.

In March 2014, the Nigerian Government approached Pakistan for the purchase of joint Chinese-Pakistani made CAC/PAC JF-17 "Thunder" multi-role fighter aircraft. In December 2015, the Government of President Muhammadu Buhari presented a budget to the National Assembly that included N5bn for three JF-17 aircraft. On March 28, 2018, 'The Diplomat' reported Pakistan as confirming the sale of three JF-17 to Nigeria. In March 2020, NAF Chief of Air Staff announced the delivery schedule of three JF-17 Thunder to be effected in November 2020. It is understood that the Buhari administration will expand the fleet of JF-17 fighter aircraft upon an expression of satisfaction by NAF Generals, with the performance of the initial batch procured.

In December 2017, NAF formally announced that the United States of America had agreed to sell the A-29 Super Tucano attack aircraft to Nigeria after the deal had previously stalled. The success of this transaction is credit to the persistent negotiation and diplomatic skills of the Buhari administration.

In November 2018, Sierra Nevada was officially awarded the contract for the 12 Super Tucano aircraft for the NAF with an estimated completion date by 2024.

On January 2, 2019, one Mi-35M attack helicopter from the Nigerian Air Force helicopter squadron crashed in Damasak, Borno State while providing close-air support for troops of the 145 Battalion combating Boko Haram insurgents, killing all onboard. The Mi-35 in the fleet of NAF are top of the range models acquired in the life of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari that had also ordered several Mi-171 and Agusta 109 helicopters from both Mil Moscow Helicopters of Russia and Italy's Leonardo Aerospace for the service.

On October 15, 2019, the NAF winged its first female combat fighter jet pilot Flight Lieutenant Kafayat Sanni and first female combat helicopter pilot Lieutenant Tolulope Arotile. They were amongst thirteen other pilots also winged on the same day.

In April 2020, Embraer reported the completion of the first set of Super Tucano jets out of the 12 on order with an expected with full delivery in 2021.

Command structure

The organization of the air force has been fashioned to meet current requirements of the service and the defense 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 Nigerian Civil War to other missions within and outside the country. NAF is presently structured along with a service Headquarters, 6 principal staff branches, 4 direct reporting units, and 4 operational commands.[5]

The Chief of the Air Staff also abbreviated as (CAS) is the principal or lead adviser to the President and also the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, the Minister of Defence and the Chief of Defence Staff, on air-related defense matters. The Nigerian Air Force Headquarters (HQ NAF) is responsible for establishing long and short-term mission objectives and articulating policies, carrying out plans and procedures for the attainment of peace and stability. Also, HQ NAF liaises with the Nigerian Army and Nigerian Navy on joint operational policies and plans. The Headquarters NAF consists of the office of the Chief of the Air Staff and 8 staff or 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 respectively. Each of these branches is headed by a Branch Chief with an establishment rank of Air Vice Marshal.

  • NAF Tactical Air Command (TAC), with its headquarters situated at Makurdi, is responsible for interpreting, implementing and controlling NAF operational plans.
    • 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), Benin
    • 97 Special Operations Group (97 SOG), Port Harcourt
    • 99 Air Combat Training Group (99 ACTG), Kainji
    • 45 NAF Hospital, Makurdi
    • 79 Composite Group (73 CG), Maiduguri
    • 33 Logistics Group (33 LOG GP), Makurdi
    • 35 Base Service Group (35 BSG) Makurdi
    • 47 NAF Hospital, Yola
  • NAF Mobility Command, headquartered at Yenagoa, was established in 2011. It has five other commands located in Lagos, Ilorin, Calabar, Warri and Abuja. The Mobility Command performs tactical and strategic airlift in support of government and military operations.
  • Detachments, Wings, and Forward Operational Bases include:
    • 61 NAF Detachment, Warri
    • 235 Base Service Group (235 BSG), Yenagoa
    • 301 Heavy Airlift Group (301 HAG), Lagos
    • 203 Medium Airlift Group (203 MAG), Ilorin
    • 205 RG Lagos
    • 207 Special Mobility Group (207 SMG), Calabar
    • 209 Executive Airlift Group (209 EAG), Minna
    • 237 Base Service Group (237 BSG), Minna
    • Ibadan Forward Operating Base (FOB)
    • Sokoto Forward Operating Base (FOB)
  • NAF Training Command, located at Kaduna, is chiefly responsible for the training of recruits, ground support crew, and technicians.[6][7]
    • 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 (333 BSG), Kaduna
    • 335 Base Services Group (335 BSG), Kaduna
    • 337 Base Service Group (337 BSG), Enugu
    • 339 Base Service Group (339 BSG), Kano
    • 347 NAF Hospital, Jos
    • 349 NAF Hospital Kano
    • 345 Aeromedical Hospital, Kaduna
    • Aeromedical Centre Project at Kaduna
  • NAF Logistics Command, headquartered at Ikeja, Lagos, is tasked to procure, maintain and sustain equipment in a state of operational readiness and at a minimum cost consistent with NAF mission requirements.
    • 401 Aircraft Maintenance Depot (401 ACMD), Ikeja, within Murtala Mohammed International Airport
    • 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
  • NAF Special Operations Command (SOC), headquartered at Bauchi, Bauchi State.[8][9]



Current inventory

An AW109 helicopter
An NAF Alenia G-222
A Boeing 737 Presidential transport
A Nigerian Mil Mi-35P
Aircraft Origin Type Variant In service Notes
Combat Aircraft
Aermacchi M-346 Master Italy light attack M-346FA 24 on order[10][11][12]
Alpha Jet France / Germany[13] light attack 11[14][15]
Chengdu F-7 China fighter F-7 NI[16] 8[17] licensed version of the MiG-21[18]
EMB 314 Super Tucano Brazil COIN / attack 12
JF-17 Thunder China / Pakistan Multirole Combat 3[19][20]
Maritime Patrol
ATR 42 France maritime patrol 2[14]
Super King Air United States SIGINT 3[14]
CAIG Wing Loong II China MALE UCAV 2
Tsaigumi Nigeria UAV
Boeing 737 United States VIP 1[21]
Super King Air United States utility transport 350 1[14]
Aeritalia G.222 Italy cargo / transport 1[14]
Dornier Do 28 Germany utility 128 11[14] STOL capable aircraft
Dornier Do 228 Germany transport 5[14] STOL capable aircraft
C-130 Hercules United States transport C-130H 3[14]
Bell 412 United States utility 412EP 2[17][22] aircraft were impounded by Nigerian Customs in 2016[23]
Mil Mi-17 Russia utility Mi-17/171 5 6 on order[17]
Mil Mi-24 Russia attack Mi-24/35 15 18 on order[14]
Eurocopter AS332 France utility / transport 5[14]
AgustaWestland AW101 Italy / United Kingdom VIP transport 4[24]
AgustaWestland AW139 Italy / United Kingdom VIP transport 1[14]
AgustaWestland AW109 Italy / United Kingdom utility / trainer 16 12 used for rotor-craft training[14]
Trainer Aircraft
Aero L-39 Czech Republic jet trainer 8[14]
Mil Mi-34 Russia rotor-craft trainer 1[14]
Chengdu J-7 People's Republic of China jet trainer FT-7 1[14]
Aermacchi MB-339 Italy jet trainer 6[14]
PAC Super Mushshak Pakistan basic trainer 10[14]

Incidents and accidents

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.[25]

On January 25, 2015, a photo appeared 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 State. 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 military 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 combat history.

On September 28, 2018, a fatal air collision involving two F-7 aircraft occurred during a formation flying exercise involving an Aeritalia G.222 and three Alpha Jets as they practiced flight maneuvers for the 58th Independence Day celebrations in the capital, Abuja. As the F-7 jets turned to the formation flying, their wings clipped each other's side.[26] Both planes lost stability due to the collision and it resulted to the spiral lose of both jets and they both crashed at the Katampe district of Abuja. Three pilots ejected out of the crippled jets. The two pilots who were on the F-7Ni ejected and landed with minor G-force injuries, and the third pilot on the F-7 ejected and sustained head injuries due to the problems from the parachute as it deployed. The pilot later died thereafter, on the way to the hospital as emergency services rushed to the scene of the crash. The Nigerian Air Force was notified and responded with search and rescue for all three pilots, while witnesses helped in evacuating the pilots from their stricken planes.

On 31 March 2021, a Nigerian Air Force Alpha jet crashed near Borno State in northeastern Nigeria after attacking Boko Haram, both pilots were missing.[27]

On July 18, 2021 while returning from an air interdiction mission in North West (Kaduna Zamfara boundaries) Nigeria, an Alpha Jet piloted by Flight Lieutenant Abayomi Dairo was shot down by bandits during an interdiction mission in Zamfara State. Dairo successfully ejected from the plane and managed to make his way to Nigerian Armed Forces personnel operating in the area.[28][29][30]

Rank structure

Commissioned Officers

In descending order of hierarchy the NAF airman ranks are:

In descending order of hierarchy the NAF airman ranks are:




  1. ^ The Military Balance 2020, p.494
  2. ^ "NAF Contact Us". Archived from the original on 2014-06-25. Retrieved 2014-08-26.
  3. ^ "Meet Nigeria's new Service Chiefs". January 26, 2021.
  4. ^ IISS Military Balance 2009, p.314
  5. ^ "About NAF | Structure". Archived from the original on 2014-06-25. Retrieved 2014-08-26.
  6. ^ "Home Appliances World". Archived from the original on June 4, 2013.
  7. ^ "Home Appliances World". Archived from the original on October 29, 2013.
  9. ^ "Nigerian Air Force creates Special Forces command to fight Boko Haram, others | Premium Times Nigeria". 2016-01-21. Retrieved 2021-05-31.
  10. ^ "Nigeria Ordered 24 M-346FA Aircraft Worth $1.2 Billion". May 7, 2021.
  11. ^ "Nigeria To Buy M-346, Official Says | Aviation Week Network".
  12. ^ "ITALY/NIGERIA : Pakistani option has Italy scrambling to defend sale of Leonardo combat aircraft - 19/08/2021". Africa Intelligence. August 19, 2021.
  13. ^
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q "World Air Forces 2021". Flightglobal Insight. 2021. Retrieved 4 May 2021.
  15. ^ "Nigeria fighter plane shot down by bandits - military". BBC News. 2021-07-19. Retrieved 2021-08-01.
  16. ^ "Nigeria Spends $251M for Chinese F-7 Fighters After Oil Deals". Defense Industry Daily. Archived from the original on 2016-01-22. Retrieved 2016-01-22.
  17. ^ a b c "World Air Forces 2020". Flightglobal Insight. 2020. Retrieved 23 April 2020.
  18. ^ "World Turbine Engine Directory pg. 35". Archived from the original on 4 April 2016. Retrieved 22 March 2016.
  19. ^ "First of 3 Pakistani JF-17 Jets Arrive in Nigeria".
  20. ^ Alemdar, Ahmet (2021-03-24). "Nijerya, Pakistan'dan ilk JF-17 Thunder savaş uçağını teslim aldı". DefenceTurk (in Turkish). Retrieved 2021-03-27.
  21. ^ "Nigerian Air Force Beoing 737". Archived from the original on 22 June 2015. Retrieved 20 June 2015.
  22. ^ Martin, Guy (January 2018). "Nigerian Air Force Bell 412s". Air International. Vol. 94, no. 1. p. 23.
  23. ^ "Nigerian Air Force Bell 412". Air Forces Monthly. Key Publishing: 24. March 2018.
  24. ^ "Nigerian AW101 makes debut flight". Archived from the original on 23 July 2015. Retrieved 20 June 2015.
  25. ^ Accident description for Lockheed C-130H Hercules NAF911 Lagos at the Aviation Safety Network
  26. ^ "Two Nigerian Air Force (NAF) F-7Ni fighter jets crash during independence day rehearsal | African Military Blog". African Military Blog. 2018-09-29. Archived from the original on 2018-10-01. Retrieved 2018-10-01.
  27. ^ Lionel, Ekene (1 April 2021). "Nigerian air force alpha jet lost during counter terror operations".{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  28. ^ "Nigerian fighter jet shot down by criminals, pilot survives".
  29. ^ Isamotu, Idowu (July 19, 2021). "Nigeria: Pilot Rescued As Bandits Shoot Down Military Jet".
  30. ^ Lionel, Ekene (20 July 2021). "Nigerian air force lose another alpha jet, pilot rescued".{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)


  • Michael I. Draper and Frederick Forsyth, Shadows: Airlift and Airwar in Biafra and Nigeria 1967-1970 (Howell Press, 2000) ISBN 1-902109-63-5
  • Hoyle, Craig. "World Air Forces Directory". Flight International, Volume 192, No. 5615, 5–11 December 2017. pp. 26–57. ISSN 0015-3710
  • Martin, Guy. "Nigerian Regeneration". Air International. Vol 83 No 5, November 2012. pp. 84–89. ISSN 0306-5634.
  • Sampson, A. (1977) The Arms Bazaar: From Lebanon to Lockheed, Viking, ISBN 978-0-670-13263-8
  • World Aircraft Information Files. Brightstar Publishing, London. File 338 Sheet 01

External links