By David O. Kuranga –
The United States has announced plans to sell Nigeria the A-29, light attack turbo prop propeller aircraft to the Nigerian Air Force. The planes cost around 15 million USD and are identical to planes that were given to the Afghan Air Force earlier. The aircraft are much slower than standard fighter aircraft, and their only advantage is their ability to take off from shorter runways.
In a conventional match-up or joint-task force, if Nigeria were ever asked to partner in a multi-national coalition with middle-income nations like Egypt, South Africa, Brazil, or Indonesia, the Nigerian “Air Force” equipped with the A-29 light attack fighters would be joke! They are comparatively slow, fly at lower altitudes, and are much more succeseptuble to anti-aircraft artillery that even rebel fighters in Mali were in possession of.
The fact that the Nigerian government is considering putting in over a 100 million dollars of state money to purchase these inadequate aircraft, as a means of upgrading Nigeria’s air defenses is a laughable! Further it is a poor investment and a waste of state resources. What makes matters worse, instead of being thankful that Nigeria is even considering purchasing such garbage from the U.S. Aeronautics weapons industry, political operatives in the U.S. are trying to delay the deal and delivery of the aircraft. Given that there is an election coming up in the U.S., and that these are not even top quality aircraft, this is a very bad path for President Buhari to tread down, and if he continues he is almost certain to face embarrassment and an obsolete product delivered late, if at all.
There are far better aircraft, at a better price point that Nigeria could procure, without any of the delays or political set-backs. These more advanced fighters would put the Nigerian Air Force on equal footing with South Africa, Egypt, and other middle income emerging powers. Fighter jets like the Gripen SAAB JAS-39 are among the most cost effective and capable fighter jets in operation today. The new Gripen JAS-39 has a price tag of around 40,000 million a unit, but Saab, desperate for new customers has the option of versions of the aircraft using the frames of the older model, already built and in storage at a much lower price tag. Further, giving a large contract to the Swedish aeronautics firm, if negotiated properly, can come with substantial aid to Nigeria from the Swedish government. Sweden gave out, some 300 million in aid to multilateral and bilateral recipients, and over 10 million in direct aid to Afghanistan and Ethiopia. If Nigeria were to patronize Saab, undoubtedly Nigeria could maneuver itself to the top of that list on the receiving end of Swedish aid. Thus it is entirely plausible that Nigeria could acquire first rate fighter jets from Saab for around 20-30 million a unit. Coupled with Swedish aid this deal would rival what they are now planning on wasting on the inferior American A-29 light attack turbo prop, and begging them for the privilege to wait in line for a delayed delivery of a third-rate substandard aircraft.
There is no rational reason for Nigeria to make the United States its primary supplier of military hardware. Their equipment is pricey, comes with serious strings attached, and what they are willing to sell is by far inferior to what Nigeria can afford to purchase from other sources. Further since, training and maintenance will likely be linked to the source country of the aircraft, the fragile relationship Nigeria now has with the U.S. is not fertile testing ground for this scale of a purchase and partnership. Those advising the president to entertain the offer of the U.S. to sell the A-29 turbo prop “crop duster” plane, are seriously leading the administration down a path that is almost certain to go awry. The ongoing opposition to the deal in the U.S. is reason enough for the administration to commence talks with Saab in Sweden for their JAS-39, to see if indeed Nigeria can score a better deal all around.
David O. Kuranga is the Managing Director and Principal of Kuranga and Associates, a full-service investment, political and economic risk consultancy, and asset management firm that specializes in Africa. He is also the author of The Power of Interdependence with Palgrave Macmillan Press.