Nigeria Air Force to get new Chinese fighter jets
From Madu Onuorah, Abuja
THE fortunes of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) are set for a rebound as the Federal Government has signed an agreement with a Chinese firm for the supply of new combat jets - the (Finback) F-8IIM - to the service.
Nigeria last took delivery of such new inventory of combat jets in the late 1970s and early 1980s. But the combat jets are now mothballed. They include the MiG (Mikoyan-Guverich) -21 and the Sepecat Jaguar. Currently, Nigeria's lead fighter is the light combat-trainer, the Alpha jet.
Though details of the number on order and cost of the fighter jets are still under consideration, defence and diplomatic sources told The Guardian in Abuja that the
F-8IIM would be procured directly from the manufacturers.
It is being manufactured by a consortium of aircraft producing subsidiaries under the Aviation Industries of China I (AVIC I) which is a part-owner of the China National Aero-Technology Import and Export Corporation (CATIC), China's military aircraft manufacturing conglomerate. AVIC I and II each hold 50 per cent of CATIC shares. The subsidiaries under AVIC I are Chengdu Aircraft Company, Xian Aircraft Company, Nanchang Aircraft Company, Shenyang Aircraft Company (SAC) and the National Trade Bureau.
A modern fighter jet, the test flight of the F-8IIMs was completed by the Chinese in January 1998. The agreement for the procurement of the jets was signed last month between the Minister of Defence, Dr. Rabiu Kwankwaso and officials of the Chinese firm. It was signed just on the heels of the visit to China by President Olusegun Obasanjo.
The F-8IIM was produced as the ultra` seven/FC-1 (Fighter-China) 1. Designed by AVIC I after studying international market demands, it meets the need of various military environments and operations. It is an all-weather, multi-purpose, single-seat, multi-duties light fighter aircraft. Its equipment has the advanced aviation electronic systems that can launch medium-range missiles while realising the ultra apparent distance attack and the precise opposite attack capability.
The aircraft can also carry out spatially double duty. The size length is 14.0 metres with height of 5.1 metres. Its wingspan contains wing tip missile centre line total wingspan of 9.0 metres.
The fighter jet was developed with a total investment in excess of $500 million, including support from the CATIC, primarily for export to replace the 120 F-7M/P fighters now in service in the Pakistani Air Force.
Initially it was anticipated that the jet would be a high-performance, low-cost fighter plane to supplement the F-10 air superiority fighters developed for the Chinese Air Force. But the improvements in performance affected the programme's costs. And if the final production order is fewer than 300 aircraft, the unit price will rise from the original $10 million to $15 million. And with the modifications, the Nigerian Air Force is requesting from the manufacturers the cost of weapon systems, spare parts and other ground equipment, the prices would obviously go higher.
Though no official of the Ministry of Defence or the NAF is willing to speak on the procurement, the 2005 Appropriation Act passed by the National Assembly and signed by President Olusegun Obasanjo has provision of N3 billion for the "procurement of Chinese aircraft" for the NAF.
Sources noted that though the amount as passed in the budget look small for the procurement of the jets, they would be delivered in phases. And because they are not picked off the shelf, the manufacturing and modifications requested by NAF will begin in earnest once the initial agreed deposit is paid.
Discussions on the new jets began in 2003. To prepare the grounds for the acquisition, pilots and aircraft engineers were sent to the manufacturer's base in China. The pilots undertook combat and advanced training on the use of the F-8IIMs while the engineers went to get a hold on its maintenance.
Earlier, the manufacturers had visited Nigeria and made presentations on the jets to the end-users - the NAF. Following this, a team from NAF went to inspect the aircraft, and returned with a favourable report. As a follow-up, the manufacturers again visited Nigeria where they further met officials of NAF. The NAF tabled their own observations about the aircraft, including the modifications they want on it. The modifications in the avionics and weapon systems are being included in the final product to be delivered to Nigeria.
The F-8IIMs original concept began as the J-8 fighter, a modestly radical Chinese development of the Chengdu J-7 (MiG-21 'Fishbed'). It was modelled along the lines of the MiG Ye-152A experimental aeroplane about which the Chinese received limited data from the Soviets in the late 1950s.
Production of the J-8 initial version was finally authorised in July 1979 with a power-plant of two Wopen-7B turbojets (Chinese- built version of the MNPK 'Soyuz' Tumanskii R-11F-300) to secure Mach 2 performance, the engines being aspirated through a single large nose inlet with a translating centre body accommodating the antenna of the ranging radar. The production of the J-8 ended in 1987 after the delivery of comparatively few aircraft.
Then, the J-8 II 'Finback-B' came. It was a radically upgraded version which was first flown in May 1984 but revealed only in 1986. The F-8IIM came as China's answer to a modern fighter jet that would compare with any from the West. From the conception of the J-8 II Finback-B in the mid-eighties, China had sought the participation of Western companies in the provision of avionics and medium-range semi-active radar- homing AAMs (Air-to-Air-Missiles). This was within the context of its then program of gaining Western technical aid in upgrading its most important warplanes. The input of American was sought for the J-8 II.
In 1986, the American government approved the 'Peace Pearl' programme for the export to China of 55 equipment ship-sets, each including Westinghouse APG-66 radar, Litton LN-39 INS, a HUD, flight and mission computers, and MIL 1553B digital databus.
Two J-8 II airframes were delivered to Grumman in the first half of 1989 for the integration of the avionics package. But the programme was suspended later in the year by the US government after the Chinese suppression of a democracy movement. It was reinstated in early 1990 and again cancelled by the Chinese in May of the same year.
China sought to implement a comparable upgrade, using domestic resources. First, the F-8 II 'Finback-B' was proposed for export derivative of the J-8 II, with up-rated Wopen-13B turbojets, each rated at 15,432 lb st (68.65 kN) with after burning for a maximum level speed 'clean' of Mach 2.20, pulse-Doppler radar, digital avionics (including a HUD and two HDDs), leading-edge flaps, an inflight-refuelling probe, and a maximum disposable load of 9,921 lb (4500 kg) carried on seven hard points.
In its search for a modern fighter jet which would improve the poor performance of J-8B (F-8II), SAC (Shengyang Aircraft Company) led the consortium that developed the F-8IIM. It was a private venture specifically for the overseas market. This SAC-led manufactured F-8IIM can carry a variety of AAMs (PL-9, AA-10, PL-2B). It features a Russian Zhuk-8II look-down, shoot-down radar (look-up 70km, look-down 40km), able to track up to 10 targets and engage two targets simultaneously with radar-guided AAMs for instance, PL-11 or AA-10), as well as to launch anti-ship missiles (such as Kh-31/YJ-12A).
Other improvements include new HUD and multi-functional display, combined INS/GPS, integrated ECM system, HOTAS control, a 3,000-hour life airframe and two upgraded WP-13AIII turbojet. The empty weight (wt.) of the F-8IIM is 10,030kg while the Maximum t/o wt. is 18,322kg. Its maximum speed is Mach 2.0 while its Climbing rate is 190m/s. The maximum range for the F-8IIM is 1,900km whereas its Maximum load is 4,500kg.
Defence analysts however said that the change in aerodynamics is minimal as the aircraft is actually heavier, resulting in a slightly poorer manoeuvering. As a result, like F-7MG, it was not acquired by the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army Air Force in large quantities. But a member of the team involved in the technical evaluation and negotiations told The Guardian that "it is a very fine aircraft. It is a much improvement and a higher version of the MiGs. It aims to correct the limitations of the Russian-built MiGs. Its weapon delivery system is very efficient and meets the needs of the nation's air defence system."`
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