Nigerian Air Force

The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) is the air branch of the Nigerian Armed Forces. It is one of the largest in Africa, consisting of about 10,000 personnel[3] and aircraft including 12 Chinese Chengdu F-7s, and 11 Dassault-Dornier Alpha Jets, 12 Embraer EMB 314 Super Tucano, armed helicopters, and military transport aircraft.

Nigerian Air Force
Founded18 April 1964 (55 years)
Country Nigeria
TypeAir force
Size10,000 active personnel
Part ofNigerian Armed Forces
HeadquartersAbuja, F.C.T. [1]
Motto(s)"Willing … Able … Ready"
AnniversariesArmed Forces Day (January 15)
EngagementsNigerian Civil War
First Liberian Civil War
Sierra Leone Civil War
Conflict in the Niger Delta
Boko Haram insurgency
Northern Mali War
Invasion of the Gambia
Commander-in-ChiefPresident Muhammadu Buhari
Chief of the Air StaffAir Marshal Sadique Abubakar[2]
Fin flash
Aircraft flown
AttackAlpha Jet, Aero L-39, Embraer EMB 314 Super Tucano
FighterChengdu F-7, JF-17
PatrolATR 42 MP
TrainerAlpha Jet, MB 339A, L-39ZA Albatros
TransportAeritalia G.222, SA 330H Puma and C-130


Although an Air Force was originally proposed in 1958, many lawmakers preferred to rely on the United Kingdom for air defence. 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.[4] " The NAF was formed with technical assistance from West Germany. The air force started life as a transport unit with aircrew being 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 air force did not get a combat capability until a number of Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17 aircraft were presented by the Soviet Union during the 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.[5] Initially two MiG-15UTIs (NAF601 and NAF 602), and eight MiG-17s (NAF603 to NAF610) were supplied to Nigeria.[6] Later six Il-28 bombers, flown 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 Nigeria had 7,000 air force 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.[7] 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, and officers reportedly received US$3.6 million dollars in kickbacks, compared to a total purchase price of $45 million.[8]

25 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21MFs and six MiG-21UM were delivered in 1975. Three were lost in accidents, and one is preserved as a gate guard at Abuja air base. All were put into storage in the 1990s due to lack of spares and finance. Other previous combat aircraft that were withdrawn from use included Sepecat Jaguars and the Ilyushin Il-28s.

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 command (military formation)s were formed in 1978: NAF Tactical Air Command and NAF Training Command.[9]


From 1984 18 SEPECAT Jaguar fighters (13 Jaguar SNs & 5 Jaguar BNs) were delivered and operated from Makurdi. They were retired in 1991.[10] Nigeria purchased 24 Aero L-39 Albatros armed jet trainers in 1986-87 and tried to obtain 27 more in 1991 but the International Monetary Fund vetoed the purchase. It also prevented a 1994 purchase of 7 Pilatus PC-7's despite approval by the government of Switzerland.


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.[11]


In 2005 it was reported that Nigeria has approved US$251 million to purchase 15 Chengdu F-7 fighters from China. The deal includes 12 F-7NI (NI-Nigeria) single seat fighter variant, and 3 FT-7NI dual-seat trainer aircraft.[12] The $251 million package included $220 million for 15 aircraft, plus $32 million for armaments, including 20 live PL-9C AAM, 10 training PL-9 rounds, unguided rockets, and 250/500 kg bombs. Nigerian pilots began their training in China in 2008, with delivery of the aircraft to begin in 2009.[13] 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, with the new F-7 purchase, the government of Nigeria has decided to suspend the refurbishment option and grounded its fleet of MiG 21's.

In September 2009 it was reported that U.S. Air Forces Africa and 118th Airlift Wing personnel had managed to make one of the Air Force's C-130s flyable again, and that it would be dispatched to Germany for further repairs.[14] Based on material from,[15] it appears that this aircraft may have been NAF917.


On March 22, 2011, Air Commodore Yusuf Anas told The Associated Press that a Chinese-made F7 fighter crashed near Kano Airport. Anas said the pilot died in the crash and no other details were provided. So far all three of the F7 trainers have crashed and been written off.

On March 24, 2011, the new Air Officer Commanding of NAF Mobility Command, Air Vice Marshal John Aprekuma, said the newly established Air Force Mobility Command headquarters in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State is part of the Federal Government's strategy to protect its socio-economic interest in the Niger Delta. He said also that the presence of the command's headquarters would bring about security and calm to the people of the state because the Nigerian Air Force is a disciplined and results-oriented, military organisation.[16]

On December 9, 2011, the Nigerian Air Force will get its first female pilot, Cadet Blessing Liman. The inclusion of women in the training followed a directive from the President Goodluck Jonathan.

Recently the Nigerian Government has approached Pakistan for the purchase of joint Chinese-Pakistani made CAC/PAC JF-17 Thunder multirole fighter aircraft; however, the number of aircraft to be purchased is yet to be finalized by Pakistan Aeronautical Complex and Nigeria. According to reports, Nigeria will also buy Super Mushak training jets from Pakistan. In December 2015, the Government of President Muhammadu Buhari presented a budget to the National Assembly that included N5bn for 3 JF-17 aircraft.[17]

The Nigerian Air force constructed the first indigenous UAV called the Gulma which was unveiled by the former president Goodluck Jonathan in Kaduna. President Jonathan said that the vehicle would also be useful in aerial imaging/mapping, telecommunications and weather monitoring. "It is also rapidly becoming an important tool in news coverage, environmental monitoring, and oil and gas exploration. "Considering the potential impact of its benefit and versatility, I cannot but say how proud I am of the men and women of our Armed Forces," the president said. "Apart from their commitment to the protection of our sovereignty, they are helping to keep our nation ahead in military science and technology and to keep their civilian counterparts on their toes.

On January 25, 2015, a photo appeared on 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.[18] 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 were notified and responded with search and rescue for all three pilots, while witnesses helped in evacuating the pilots from their stricken planes.

On January 2, 2019, a Mi-35M attack helicopter from the Nigerian Air Force helicopter squadron crashed in Damasak, Borno state, after it was called in to provide close-air support for troops of the 145 Battalion, combating Boko Haram insurgents. It was gathered the aircraft carrying five officers,[19] lost their lives as the helicopter crashed.

Command structure

The organization of the air force has been fashioned to meet current requirements of the service and the defence 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. The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) is presently structured along a service Headquarters, 6 principal staff branches, 4 direct reporting units and 4 operational commands.[20]

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 defence 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. In addition, 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),
97 Special Operations Group (97 SOG), Port Harcourt
99 Air Combat Training Group (99 ACTG) Kainji
45 NAF Hospital, Makurdi
33 LOG GP Makurdi
35 BSG Makurdi
47 NAF Hospital, Yola
79 CG Maiduguri
  • 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 BSG Yenagoa
201 HAG Lagos
203 MAG Ilorin
205 RG Lagos
207 SMG Calabar
209 EAG Minna
237 BSG Minna
Ibadan (FOB)
Sokoto (FOB)
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, Kaduna
335 Base Services Group, Kaduna
337 BSG Enugu
339 BSG Kano
347 NAF Hospital, Jos
349 NAF Hospital Kano
345 Aeromedical Hospital, Kaduna
The 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



Aircraft Origin Type Variant In service Notes
Combat Aircraft
Alpha Jet France / Germany[23] light attack 12[24]
Chengdu F-7 China fighter F-7 NI[25] 9[24] licensed version of the MiG-21[26]
EMB 314 Super Tucano Brazil COIN / attack 12 on order[24]
CAC/PAC JF-17 Thunder China / Pakistan Multirole Fighter JF-17 Block II 3 on Order[27][28]
Maritime Patrol
ATR 42 France maritime patrol 2[24]
Super King Air United States SIGINT 2[24]
Boeing 737 United States VIP 1[29]
Super King Air United States utility transport 350 2[24]
Aeritalia G.222 Italy cargo / transport 2[24]
Dornier Do 28 Germany utility 128 11[24] STOL capable aircraft
Dornier Do 228 Germany transport 5[24] STOL capable aircraft
C-130 Hercules United States transport C-130H 3[24]
Bell 412 United States utility 412EP 2[30] aircraft were impounded by Nigerian Customs in 2016[31]
Mil Mi-17 Russia utility Mi-17/171 5 6 on order[24]
Mil Mi-24 Russia attack Mi-24/35 11 10 on order[24]
Eurocopter AS332 France utility / transport 5[24]
AgustaWestland AW101 Italy / United Kingdom VIP transport 2[32]
AgustaWestland AW139 Italy / United Kingdom VIP transport 1[24]
AgustaWestland AW109 Italy / United Kingdom utility / trainer 12[24]
Trainer Aircraft
Aero L-39 Czech Republic jet trainer 17[24]
Mil Mi-34 Russia rotor-craft trainer 1[24]
Chengdu J-7 People's Republic of China jet trainer FT-7 2[24]
Diamond DA40 Austria basic trainer 4[24]
Aermacchi MB-339 Italy jet trainer 6[24]
PAC Super Mushshak Pakistan basic trainer 10[33]

NAF Regiment

The Nigerian Air Force Regiment (NAF Regiment)[34] is component part of the Nigerian Air Force and functions as a specialist airfield and defense corps. After the attacks by Boko Haram on Nigerian Air Force installations, the command and the Chief Air Marshall decided to create a specialist unit capable of providing security and protecting the Air Force interests and its bases across the country, in especially conflict zones like the North East, Maiduguri.[35] Its training and nature of operations are equivalent to the RAF Regiment, the training was undertaken by the British Military Advisory and Training Team (BMATT).[36]

  • Quick Response Force (QRF)

This is a unit in the air force capable of the quick deployment of its forces to provide counter terrorism and security for various Nigerian Air Force installations, such as bases, military assets from which the Air Force operates from. These security forces consists of elite military units such as special operations or paratroopers which are trained at a higher combat level than the regular military units.

Rank structure

The NAF's rank structure is similar to the British Royal Air Force's rank structure from where its ranks were derived.


In descending order of hierarchy the NAF officer ranks are:


In descending order of hierarchy the NAF airman/woman ranks are:




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    2. "About NAF | Chief of Air Staff". Archived from the original on 2014-06-25. Retrieved 2014-08-26.
    3. IISS Military Balance 2009, p.314
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    8. J. Kayode Fayemi, 'Threats to Military Expediture and National Security,' PhD dissertation, King's College London, 1993, cited in Herbert Howe, 'Ambiguous Order: Military Forces in African States,' Lynne Rienner, 2005, 41. See also 'The Arms Bazaar,' and Lockheed bribery scandals.
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    13. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-01-22. Retrieved 2009-01-19.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
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    17. "FG to spend N65bn on warplanes, weapons, others - Punch Newspapers". Archived from the original on 2016-01-06. Retrieved 2016-01-06.
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    20. "About NAF | Structure". Archived from the original on 2014-06-25. Retrieved 2014-08-26.
    21. Archived June 4, 2013, at the Wayback Machine
    22. Archived October 29, 2013, at the Wayback Machine
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    34. "Nigeria militants attack airbase". December 2, 2013. Archived from the original on December 15, 2018. Retrieved February 16, 2019 via
    35. "UK military chief visits British training team in Nigeria". GOV.UK. Archived from the original on April 1, 2019. Retrieved February 16, 2019.


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