The efforts of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) to provide qualitative manpower to meet its operational requirements in tackling various security challenges in the country have received a further boost with the graduation of a set of 13 pilots who have successfully completed their tactical and combat training. The combined Graduation Ceremony of Tactical Helicopter Course 1/2019 and Tactical Fighter Courses 23 and 24A, which took place today, 21 December 2019, at the NAF Base Makurdi comprised 5 Agusta 109EM helicopter pilots and 8 Alpha Jet pilots. The Graduation Ceremony was preceded by an Air Range Exercise which involved live firing from Agusta 109EM helicopters and Alpha Jets by the graduating pilots at Kwernev Air Range, Makurdi, with the pilots displaying the effectiveness of their training and targeting/weapon delivery skills scoring accurate hits on the targets with their rockets and cannons.

Speaking during the graduation ceremony, the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, said he was delighted that 2 of the NAF’s vital training Units, the 405 Helicopter Combat Training Group (405 HCTG), Enugu and the 407 Air Combat Training Group (407 HCTG), Kainji, were taking their place at the forefront of producing combat-rated helicopter and fighter pilots for the Service. He described the combined graduation of the pilots as a significant milestone in the history of the NAF, being the first time that the Service would be witnessing the graduation of tactically-trained helicopter pilots from 405 HCTG. The CAS disclosed that this was in keeping with the NAF’s current focus on robust and result oriented training for enhanced professional performance, which has seen several aircrew trained both at home and abroad in the last 4 years. He noted, for instance, that from July 2015 till date, the NAF had conducted conversion and tactical training for 9 Alpha Jet pilots in Egypt and 17 others at the 407 ACTG, Kainji, in addition to the 8 graduating Alpha Jet pilots; 4 of whom were trained in Egypt and the other 4 trained in Kainji by NAF instructors. Moreover, he noted that, aside the 5 graduating helicopter pilots, the Service had conducted initial and refresher courses for 24 Agusta 109 pilots in Italy.

According to him, the graduation of the helicopter pilots was as a result of the reorganization of the 405 HCTG to enable it bridge the gap of insufficient combat-rated helicopter pilots in the NAF. He said the Unit was now well positioned to continue supplying all NAF combat helicopter platforms with tactically trained pilots, while 407 Air Combat Training Group (407 ACTG) would continue to provide the Service with combat-rated fighter pilots on the Alpha Jet. The combined efforts of these Units, he said, had ensured the constant supply of adequately trained pilots to meet the operational needs of the NAF. He noted that this was a testament to the collective efforts “To reposition the NAF into a highly professional and disciplined force through capacity building initiatives for effective, efficient and timely employment of air power in response to Nigeria's national security imperatives”. He therefore commended the efforts of the Air Training Command (ATC), which has been responsible for implementing the initiatives to domicile most of its training efforts in NAF institutions, for translating his vision and strategic directives into visible achievements in the field.

While congratulating the graduating pilots for their resilience in successfully completing the training, Air Marshal Abubakar charged them to strive to use their skills to add value to the units where they would be deployed. The CAS also seized the opportunity to appreciate the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, President Muhammadu Buhari, for his untiring support that had enabled the NAF to effectively discharge its constitutional responsibilities. He equally commended the Air Officer Commanding (AOC) ATC as well as the Commanders, officers, instructors and airmen/airwomen for their dedication, which had resulted in the successes so far achieved.

In his welcome remarks, the AOC ATC, Air Vice Marshal (AVM) Muhammed Suleiman, stated that, since the inception of the current NAF leadership, the ATC had recorded tremendous achievements, including the recent graduation of 11 Instructor Pilots, 3 Captains and 2 Co-pilots from 401 Flying Training School, Kaduna, just 2 weeks ago. He noted that the sustained progress in different flying training programmes under the ATC were indicators that the necessary logistics and administrative support were being provided to the Command in a timely manner to ensure smooth and unhindered accomplishment of the Command's flying training and operational objectives. AVM Suleiman therefore thanked the CAS for providing the enabling environment that had facilitated these achievements. He pledged the commitment of the Command to continue to turn out well trained, professional pilots that would be effective and efficient in the employment of air power.

The ceremony featured the reading of highlights of the courses by the Commanders of the 405 HCTG and 407 ACTG. Certificates were also presented to all graduands, while those who distinguished themselves on the various courses received awards for their efforts. In this regard, Squadron Leader Kelechi Nwagba received an award for emerging best-all-round in Tactical Helicopter Course 1/2019, while Flying Officers Ahmad Galadanchi and Edward Wukari were presented with awards for topping the Tactical Fighter Courses 23 and 24A, respectively. The event was attended by the Joint Task Force Commander Operation WHIRL STROKE, Branch Chiefs and Directors from Headquarters NAF as well as Commanders and Commandants of Military Units in Makurdi.

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