Alphas play key role for NAF

UAt least two Nigerian Air Force (NAF) Alpha Jets continue to operate out of Niamey-Diori Hamani International Airport in Niger.

Up to four have been based there since early-2013, providing close air support to troops in Mali battling terrorist groups.

Niamey, in the southwest of Niger, is close to the border with Mali. The Alpha Jets serve 206 Wing/97th Special Operations Group, based at NAF Station Port Harcourt in Rivers State.

In May 2013, soon after the Alpha Jets moved into Niamey, one crashed, killing both crew. The jet was understood to have been undertaking a routine, non-combat reconnaissance flight when it crashed near Dargol, in the Tillaberry region, close to the border with Mali and about 37 miles (60km) west of Niamey.

In recent years, the NAF Alpha Jets fleet of around 10 aircraft has been rejuvenated after money was found to overhaul them. In 2015, four examples were purchased from a US company, with three of them delivered through the UK – NAF475, NAF477 and NAF 478. It is unclear when NAF476 was delivered.

Although these aircraft had been sold to Nigeria in a demilitarised configuration, on January 26, 2016 the NAF announced that it had successfully modified the first two to carry weapons. Previously, they had only been used for training, but they have been weaponised to meet an urgent operational requirement for more strike aircraft to support Operation Lafiya Dole (literally, ‘restore peace by all means’) counter-insurgency operations against Boko Harem in the northeast of the country.

Although the NAF did not state what weapons have been integrated on to the aircraft, a photograph released of one of them, NAF475, showed what appeared to be a 68mm SNEB rocket pod and 250kg unguided bomb under the port wing.

A NAF pilot pose for a photo in front of an Alpha jet. A 68mm SNEB rocket pod and 250kg unguided bomb are visible under the port wing.

On January 17, 2017 a NAF fighter, likely to have been an Alpha Jet, attacked and killed ‘dozens of people’, along the Nigeria-Cameroon border, after the pilot attacked a refugee camp. He apparently mistook the camp, which included several aid workers, for a Boko Haram terrorist hideout.

The Alpha Jets have been very busy since being returned to service, as several have also been involved in counter-insurgency operations against the Boko Haram militant group.

As part of Operation Lafiya Dole, NAF jets deploy to Yola Air Base in Adamawa state, which is the only air base used by fast jets in the country’s northeast.

 

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