By Younis Dar
The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) on May 20 inducted three JF-17 Thunder fighter jets that were acquired from Pakistan at a ceremony marking the 57th anniversary of NAF.
Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari attended the ceremony along with top security officials from Pakistan.
With the sale of indigenous fighter aircraft to a foreign country under a USD 184 million contract, Pakistan has achieved a key milestone in its aircraft-producing capabilities. The JF-17s will boost the ground-strike capabilities of the Nigerian Air Force and serve as the frontline multi-role fighters in the country.
“These aircraft have significantly boosted our operational effectiveness in the fight to defeat all threats to the nation,” NAF Chief of Air Staff (CAS) Air Marshal Isiaka Oladayo Amao told reporters on the sidelines of the induction ceremony. He said the aircraft will “equip and energize the NAF towards combating terrorism, insurgency and other threats.”
Nigerian Defence Minister Maj Gen Bashir Magashi hailed his country’s growing partnership with Pakistan, thanking the country’s government and Pakistan Air Force (PAF) for supporting and enhancing NAF’s capabilities to meet Nigeria’s security challenges.
Also attending the ceremony was the PAF Vice Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Syed Noman Ali, who said the contract was for the JF-17 was “a landmark” achievement and reflection of “strong military cooperation between Pakistan and Nigeria.”
JF-17 Thunder is jointly developed by China’s Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation (CAC) and Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC) Kamra.
The fighter is a single-engine, lightweight, multirole combat aircraft suited for a number of roles. JF-17 has served as the backbone of PAF and has proven itself in the battle with its advanced weaponry and maneuverability.
Experts believe that the growing global demand for the jet was driven by its affordability compared to its western rival fighters.
“There is tremendous potential for JF-17 as it carries a lot of value at a low price to meet specific defense requirements,” Gulf News quoted a former managing director of the JF-17 production project as saying.
Nigeria is dealing with a worsening insurgency, led by deadly armed groups such as Boko Haram and President Buhari is equipping the country’s air force with more aircraft to help confront such dangerous terror organizations.
In the last five years, Nigerian armed forces have inducted 10 Super Mushshak aircraft, 5 Mi-35M helicopter gunships, 2 Bell 412 helicopters, 4 Agusta 109 power attack helicopters, and one Mi-171 E Helicopter.
However, the JF-17 multi-role aircraft will offer a new capability to Nigeria to confront powerful terror groups and adversary states.
According to the PAF, the state-of-the-art avionics, optimally integrated sub-systems, computerized flight controls and capability to employ the latest weapons provide a decisive advantage to JF-17 over adversaries of the same class.
Pakistan has also started producing the more advanced version of the fighter jet, the JF-17 Thunder Block-III variant, which is a 4.5 generation aircraft, equipped with advanced capabilities such as active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, integrated missile approach warning receivers, optimized electronic warfare & countermeasures suite, holographic head-up display, single-piece man-machine interface, multi-axis fly-by-wire, helmet-mounted display and additional hardpoint.
The integration of the fifth-generation high-off-boresight PL-10 and extended range beyond-visual-range (BVR) PL-15 missiles along with other smart munitions, sensors, and pods will greatly enhance the new variant’s combat capability.
Netizens ‘Mock’ JF-17 Deal
Interestingly, Nigeria is one of the most developed countries in Africa. The country’s GDP (PPP) per capita stands at USD 5,135, compared to Pakistan’s USD 4,690, while Nigeria’s GDP slumped to USD 1,032 billion (PPP), which is still higher than Pakistan’s 1,015.
Although doing exceptionally well in all the economic and social indicators than Pakistan, Nigeria’s economic growth faltered in the last decade but continues to be better than Pakistan.
The crude oil contributes significantly to Nigeria’s economy, accounting for around 10% of the country’s GDP and nearly all foreign-exchange earnings and half of the government revenue in the country.
The country’s economic prosperity outpaced the whole of Africa at one time.
The critics within the country, therefore, question its government for being dependent on a “third-world country” for critical defense supplies. They lament the fact that the country with an abundance of resources is relying on a nation like Pakistan, which has historically been far behind Nigeria in all social and economic indicators.
“Pakistan as part of India was a colonization of the UK and much worse than Nigeria – in every measure of human development since Nigeria’s independence in 1960. Sixty years on, Nigeria is not ashamed to tell the world that Pakistan is manufacturing military aircraft and selling to Nigeria and pledging to support her,” wrote Michael Asuzu from the University of Ibadan, based in Nigeria.
Experts say the rampant corruption in the higher ranks of the government had squandered the country’s wealth of resources and left it to depend on foreign assistance.
The US sale of Super Tucano aircraft to the Nigerian government had generated similar criticism with many alleging that multiple service chiefs of the country’s air force had been put on trial for corruption and financial embezzlement, and therefore, could not be trusted with the sale of such sophisticated aircraft.
Other social media users from Nigeria questioned the reliability of the aircraft produced jointly by Pakistan and China.
“When nations like Egypt, South Africa and Ethiopia go to France, America, Germany, Israel and Russia to buy sophisticated fighter jets, Nigeria can only go to Pakistan to buy second-hand jets whose reliability cannot be guaranteed or which cannot stand against the ones manufactured by countries mentioned above,” commented another user.
The other criticism comes from the fact that the aerial bombardment could jeopardize the lives and properties of civilians while the jets target Boko Haram locations. This is because the terror group has now dispersed and is operating secretively and deeper in civilian pockets, conducting asymmetric attacks. The group no longer conducts attacks en masse.
The questions are also raised on the Nigerian military’s poor performance as the country continues to rank among the worst nations when it comes to vulnerability to terrorism.
The Global Terrorism Index 2019 ranked it as the 3rd worst nation prone to terrorism despite the government spending more and more on its defense budget in the last decade.
Nigeria has the second-largest defense budget in Africa after South Africa with an allocation of 2 billion USD.
Critics point out a range of factors that have put the country in such a position. They include corruption, lack of transparency in defense procurement, lack of any monitoring mechanism and unhealthy rivalry among the forces.
Moreover, the country is faced with unprecedented poverty and unemployment, made worse by falling oil prices on which much of the economy depends.
The country has only this year emerged from a crushing recession and its human development index continues to fall to record levels. Engaging in extravagant defense purchases at this time is unconscionable, the critics allege.