In its federal budget proposal for 2018, Nigeria has allocated NGN 13.12 billion ($36 million U.S.) as a payment for an order for three JF-17 Thunder multi-role fighters – along with support equipment and spare parts – from Pakistan Aeronautical Complex (PAC).
This follows an earlier allocation in 2016 worth NGN 5 billion ($13.9 m U.S.).
Nigeria’s budget proposal confirms that the Nigerian Air Force’s order for three JF-17s is still in place, but it is being executed through installments paid in cash. The Nigerian Air Force, PAC and Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) have yet to release a timeline for deliveries.
In its budget proposal for 2017, Nigeria had earmarked $68.76 million U.S. for platforms for “counter air, counter surface, air ops for strategic effect and air support operations.”
It appears that the JF-17 is sharing the allocation with the Russian Helicopters Mi-35M, for which Nigeria took delivery of two and has 10 on order (with delivery slated for 2018), and potentially 12 A-29 Super Tucano turboprop-powered close air support (CAS) and light-strike aircraft.
In August 2017, the U.S. State Department greenlit a proposal worth $593 million U.S. to sell A-29 Super Tucanos to Nigeria. In December 2017, the U.S. submitted a letter-of-acceptance (LOA) to the Nigerian Air Force to finalize the purchase and issue initial payments by February 2018.
In July 2017, the Nigerian Air Force started taking delivery of the Super Mushshak trainers it ordered from PAC in 2016. PAC delivered five new-built aircraft, replacing the interim aircraft it had lent in December 2016. Nigeria has a total of 10 Super Mushshak on order.
On the surface, it would seem as though the JF-17 is factoring as a lower priority on the Nigerian Air Force’s procurement roadmap, certainly in comparison to the A-29 (which is to have a launch order of 12 planes).
However, defence analyst, historian, writer and retired Pakistan Air Force (PAF) officer Air Commodore (AC) Kaiser Tufail told Quwa that he believes there is a strong rationale for the small launch order:
“Nigerian Air Force has taken an incremental approach to the induction of the JF-17. Considering the fact that it does not operate an advanced modern fighter other than a dozen F-7NI (a variant of F-7MG), it seems sensible to have ordered three-odd JF-17, on which maintenance crews would get trained, followed by pilots that will form the core and be available for follow-on inductions.
Tufail added that incremental purchasing also makes fiscal sense, “Financially, it also makes sense to stagger the purchase so that it can be funded from within own resources, rather than overburdening the economy by taking loans.” In addition, by committing a few Block-IIs for a start for primarily acclimation, Tufail stated that Nigeria can stage the bulk of its future procurement for the forthcoming JF-17 Block-III:
“From an operational standpoint, a small purchase of the existing Block-II aircraft leaves open the option of inducting Block-III, which is likely to be available in about two years or so. During this time the NAF would have set up the basic infrastructure and trained sufficient pilots to induct the more advanced version of the JF-17.”
Finally, with PAC mostly focused on fulfilling the requirements of the PAF (i.e. fulfilling the PAF’s objective of supplanting a 190 aircraft by 2020), a small export order is sustainable:
“While the NAF may not be ready to induct the JF-17 en masse for the above-stated reasons, PAC Kamra is also constrained by its production capacity, as it has to cater for the PAF which needs to replace its older fleet of Mirage III/5 and F-7 at the rate of one squadron per year. Apparently, the small initial order suits PAC quite well, since the export orders have finally started, and more countries in Asia and Africa are likely to take the cue from NAF.”
Nigeria will join Myanmar as the second third-party user of the FC-1/JF-17 platform. Myanmar signed its order for 16 FC-1 during the 2015 Paris Air Show. Myanmar’s first FC-1 was spotted undergoing flight tests in China in June 2017.