The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) has recorded another feat in its quest to enhance its operational effectiveness through robust logistics support and maintenance culture for sustained platforms and equipment serviceability to tackle security challenges facing the Nation. This was demonstrated today, 17 April 2020, at the 115 Special Operations Group (115 SOG), Port Harcourt as the Service commissioned another Mi-35P Helicopter, NAF 530, following successful in-country reactivation, after being unserviceable since June 2016. The commissioning brings to 2 the number of Mi-35P Helicopter Gunships reactivated locally by the current NAF administration and comes barely a month after the successful in-country reactivation of an Alpha Jet aircraft, NAF 455, at the 407 Air Combat Training Group, Kainji, which is already deployed to the frontlines to boost the morale of troops. The event also featured the formal commissioning of a Tailoring Workshop constructed by NAF Investment Limited (NAFIL), which, since it began operation on 3 April 2020, has already produced close to 40,000 face masks and 450 Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to assist in battling the COVID-19 Pandemic.
In his remarks at the commissioning ceremony, the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, said he was delighted to witness the formal re-induction into service of NAF 530, noting that the successful in-country reactivation was an indication that the NAF has made significant progress in building its in-house aircraft maintenance capacity. He observed that, in the past, most of such major maintenance activities were done abroad, at considerably higher cost. He noted, however, that since 2015, the NAF had conducted in-Country reactivation/Periodic Depot Maintenance on a number of aircraft types in its inventory including the C-130H aircraft in Lagos, the Alpha Jets in Kainji as well as the L-39ZA in Kano. The CAS disclosed that, in all, 23 erstwhile unserviceable aircraf had been restored to flyable conditions. He gratifyingly observed that NAF 530, which had been undergoing repairs since 2018, had eventually become operable and ready to add value to the overall effort of the NAF in protecting Nigeria’s territorial integrity, just as NAF 531, which was the first NAF Mi-35P helicopter to be reactivated in-Country, had continued to do since its deployment in May 2018.
While commissioning the new Tailoring Workshop, the CAS stated that the establishment of the facility would ensure the availability of various NAF uniforms and accoutrements for personnel in the Southern Part of the Country. Aside the production of uniforms, especially flying suits and maintenance overalls, Air Marshal Abubakar added that the Workshop had commenced the mass production of face masks that would be issued to NAF personnel and others who may require them. He equally noted that the Workshop had, through R&D efforts, developed PPEs, which after certification by relevant agencies, would be distributed to NAF Medical personnel and other healthcare workers engaged in the fight against COVID-19.
The CAS, while expressing his profound gratitude to the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari, for the enabling environment that had empowered the NAF to effectively maintain current platforms as well as acquire 22 brand new ones, also disclosed that the Service was expecting 16 additional brand new aircraft. These, he said, included a second Mi-171E helicopter as well as 3 JF-17 Multi-Role aircraft from Pakistan and 12 A-29 Super Tucano from the United States of America. Air Marshal Abubakar also congratulated the Air Officer Commanding (AOC), Tactical Air Command (TAC) as well as the officers, airmen/airwomen and civilian staff of 115 SOG who took part in the in-country reactivation of NAF 530. He equally commended the Managing Director (MD) NAFIL for his determination in ensuring that the Company achieves its mandate.
While delivering his welcome address, the AOC TAC, Air Vice Marshal (AVM) Olusegun Philip, stated that the completion of the reactivation had not only given the NAF engineers and technicians the required skills in the maintenance of the platform, but also augmented the number of available helicopters in the fight against insurgency and other criminal activities in the Country. He therefore expressed his profound gratitude to the CAS for the support that had facilitated the achievement of the feat.
On his part, the MD NAFIL, Air Commodore Uchechi Nwagwu, said the Port Harcourt Workshop was an offshoot of the NAFIL Tailoring Workshop in Kaduna, which, he said, was an initiative of the current CAS towards making the NAF self-reliant in the production of uniforms. He disclosed that the Kaduna Workshop had produced over 116,000 pairs of uniforms for the NAF since its establishment in June 2017, which had saved the Service the huge cost of importing such uniforms from abroad. He noted that the new facility would mainly focus on the production of much-required flying suits for pilots and overalls for engineers and technicians in the NAF, while also enabling the training of airmen/airwomen recruited into the NAF as tailors as well as the dependants of personnel within the NAF Base Port Harcourt community and civilians from the neighbouring communities. He however noted that the current task of the Workshop has been the production of PPEs and other accessories to battle the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Highlight of the occasion was the functional check flight of NAF 530, which was successfully executed by the AOC Special Operations Command (SOC), AVM Charles Owho, and the Commander 115 SOG, Air Commodore Elijah Ebiowe, to ascertain the work done by the maintenance team. This was followed by a brief handover/takeover ceremony, where the the NAF Chief of Aircraft Engineering, AVM Musibau Olatunji, handed over the technical documents of the helicopter to the CAS who subsequently handed them over to the Chief of Training and Operations, AVM James Gwani, thereby releasing the aircraft for deployment. Before returning to Abuja, the CAS also commissioned the Air Marshal SB Abubakar 18-Hole Golf Course and Club House, which was constructed by members of the NAF Base Part Harcourt Golf Club.
Branch Chiefs from Headquarters NAF, the General Officer Commanding 6 Division Nigerian Army, Group Managing Director NAF Holding Company as well as other senior Military Officers and Heads of Security Agencies in Rivers State were among the other dignitaries present at the event.