Nigerian air base upgrade caps $500 million US sale to bolster security
Stars and Stripes May 4, 2023
Millions of dollars in upgrades to Nigeria’s Kainji Air Base along with new, American-built attack aircraft will boost the capabilities of Africa’s most populous country in fighting extremists, according to U.S. and Nigerian officials.
Last week marked the near completion of a $38 million construction project for the Nigerian air force’s A-29 Super Tucano.
The air base work was part of a $500 million U.S. sale to Nigeria that included 12 A-29s, munitions, spare parts for several years of operation and contract logistics support, according to U.S. military officials.
Nigeria purchased the A-29s through foreign military sales, the largest purchase through the program by a sub-Saharan African country, U.S. officials said in 2021.
Nigeria received the final batch of A-29s, customized with a jungle paint scheme, in the fall of 2021. The turboprop, fixed-wing planes had been used in Afghanistan beginning in 2016 and were part of international efforts to build the fledgling Afghan air force.
“The A-29 provides light attack, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities needed to confront security threats, and the newly constructed facilities provide the support needed to keep the aircraft operational and effective,” Brig. Gen. Joel Safranek, a director at the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, said in a statement.
Construction is expected to wrap up before the summer, officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Europe district said. The agency oversaw contracting, design and construction for the Kainji project, officials said.
The major upgrades include a munitions storage area with earth-covered magazines, small arms storage, a munitions maintenance and assembly facility, a new taxiway and hot cargo pad, and a flight wing annex for simulator training, according to Army Corps of Engineers and Air Force officials. Miles of fence and improvements to base entry control points were also added.
Nigerian air force Vice Marshal Idi Gamso Lubo said the facilities will enhance Nigeria’s “capabilities to project and deliver airpower … against insurgency and terrorism” in concert with ground forces.
Since Nigeria’s acquisition of the first planes in January 2020, they have completed more than 5,000 combat sorties and 7,000 flying hours, Lubo said last week.
Nigeria is on the edge of the Sahel, a semi-desert area bridging northern and sub-Saharan Africa that has seen the most rapid growth in violent extremist activity of any African region in recent years, according to the Pentagon’s Africa Center for Strategic Studies.
Boko Haram, an Islamist militant group based in Nigeria’s northeast, and its offshoot, the Islamic State in West Africa, are among the country’s most serious security threats, the center said in a recent report.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump approved the sale in 2016, shortly after taking office.
The administration of his predecessor, Barack Obama, had put the sale on hold because of concerns over abuses committed by Nigeria’s security forces, The Associated Press reported in 2017.