Chris Agbambuin this piece notes that the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) which recently marked its 46th anniversary in Kaduna has come of age and can now bark and bite.
The ’’Air Expo 2010”, staged by the Nigerian Air Force in Kaduna from May 11- 14, on the theme: “Enhancing the Nigerian Air Force Capability through Private Sector Partnership’’ was to celebrate the 46th anniversary of the Nigerian Air Force, established in April 1964.
Though the expo has come and gone, the memories of the thrill, fanfare and glamour of the event will not be forgotten in a hurry for those who attended the three-day event.
No doubt, the challenges of globalisation and modernisation are enormous when one considers the wide gap between the developing and the developed countries of the world. But more challenging is the capacity of a country to preserve and protect its sovereignty. However, unknown to many, the recent air exposition in Kaduna, bears testimony to the fact that the Nigerian Air Force has come of age and is combat ready, thus fulfilling its constitutional mandate.
The expo featured exhibitions of a wide range of military and non-military equipment by different participating companies at home and abroad. Over 43 companies from nine countries participated. There were also seminars, ceremonial parade, aerial display and commissioning of a new combat aircraft purchased by the Federal Government for the Nigerian Air Force, among other attractions.
Until 1962, Nigeria had no functional air force. In view of the strategic position the country occupies in Africa and her military strength, it had to be involved in the restoration of peace and order in some troubled African nations. However, it became obvious that the country‘s airforce was not functonal and it had to depend solely on civil aircrafts or foreign air forces to convey its military personnel and logistics to the theatres of conflict.
The country consequently had to establish an air force in the wake of unimaginable obstacles when she was called upon to participate in two foreign military operations in the Republic of Congo in the early 1960s and Tangayika (now Tanzania) in 1959. Thus, in 1964, the Air Force Act was enacted by the Nigerian parliament, establishing the Nigerian Air Force.
Since then, the force has been waxing stronger, both in authority and in strength to the present position of a sophisticated force with the capacity to assert and consolidate Nigeria’s sovereignty and authority at both regional and sub-regional levels.
President Goodluck Jonathan, who personally declared the “Air Expo” open, and commissioned a new fighter attack aircraft acquired for the NAF, did not mince words when he said:
“Indeed, your projection of Nigeria’s image in Liberia and Sierra-Leone when the ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) was put in place two decades back still come up in discourses on regional projection of air power. One can only observe the professionalism that has become synonymous with your operations locally and internationally”.
He described the theme of the “Air Expo” as apt as it reflected the current thinking of the nation, adding that it would not only lay a solid foundation for public/private sector collaboration in the Nigerian Air Force but also seek to move the service forward in improving its capacity to deliver on its mandate.
There is no doubt that population growth and the rapid urbanisation, together with poor maintenance and limited investment over the past four decades, have placed enormous pressure on existing infrastructure in Nigeria.
Unfortunately, most infrastructure expenditure in the country, including those of the NAF, is funded directly from fiscal budget, which is volatile and rarely meets crucial infrastructure expenditure requirements in a timely and adequate manner, particularly in an environment of ever growing resource requirement.
Jonathan said: “Through this initiative, the Nigerian Air Force can put together additional resources to sustain its training efforts and simultaneously contribute to the nation’s dwindling manpower requirement. It is, therefore, a welcome idea that this year’s celebration is tagged ‘AIR EXPO 2010’-the first of its kind to be organised by the Nigerian Air Force”.
Commissioning the newly acquired F7NI Fighter Attack Aircraft for the service of NAF, the President said the aircraft had been adjudged by specialists to be the most sophisticated and fastest jet within its war fleet. Other new aircrafts commissioned included ATR 42 Maritime Patrol Aircraft and some Augusta 109 large utility helicopters.
He further noted that the survival of any nation largely depended on its ability to have a competent air force that would provide it with external and internal options in certain situations, adding that the experience that NAF had gained in almost five decades of traversing areas of conflict in several African countries would stand it in good stead for the challenges ahead.
The Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Oluseyi Petinrin, said the essence of Air Expo 2010 was to create a forum for stakeholders in the defence and aviation industries to interact, with a view to strengthening the industry in line with extant global practices.
He added that there was a huge market potential in the growing aviation industry, not only in Nigeria, but the ECOWAS sub-region and indeed the African continent in the years ahead, and that the forum provided an opportunity to explore the same.
According to him, the air expo, which brought together various stakeholders from within and outside the country, was also aimed at promoting public-private cooperation in the spirit of the Federal Government’s vision 20:2020.
Futhermore, Petinrin explained that the idea behind the event was also borne out of the need to include Nigeria in the global trend, having seen such in places like the United Kingdom and France in the bi-annual Famborough Air Show and the Paris Air Show.
He said: “Although, this is just a humble beginning, it is hoped that the air expo will evolve into an international air show, fashioned along the lines of Paris and Famborough air shows in the years ahead”.
The Chief of Air Staff stated that the move to improve the lot of NAF and justify its existence had yielded fruit following appropriation favoured by the signing of various contracts for reactivation of some of the grounded fleet, saying this was a clear indication that the Nigerian Air Force had come of age and is now a force to reckon with within the region.
Interestingly, he said the decision to domicile major inspections and maintenance programmes within the country had led to several companies like Alenia Aeronautica, Agusta Westland and Belarussian BSVT taking steps to establish their service and maintenance centres in various parts of the country to increase the local content initiative of the government.
The climax of the expo was the aerial display by some of the commissioned aircrafts . Dignitaries and participants at the Kaduna Air Expo were held spell-bound by the F7 when it began a display of its awesome power, speed and maneuverability of the air.
The event witnessed other gamut of activities including seminars for senior air force officers, colourful military parades, static display of aircrafts, weapons and associated equipment, all making the three-day air expo a worthwhile experience . It was also an occasion for strengthening and deepening cordial relationships among serving and retired NAF personnel under the aegis of the Air Force family.