GABORONE, Botswana — The Nigerian Air Force (NAF) and US aircraft manufacturer Comp Air Aviation are to collaborate on a development program geared toward the local production of a multi-role light utility aircraft for military and civilian use.

A memorandum of understanding was signed in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, on Jan. 11 between a Comp Air Aviation delegation led by CEO Ronald Lueck and NAF Chief of Air Staff Air Marshall Sadique Abubakar.

The partners will collaborate in research and development for the light aircraft, which will be called the NAFSA Eagle.

The project is a key component of Nigeria's drive toward establishing a local defense industrial complex that has maintenance, repair and overhaul expertise for the entire armed forces' equipment inventory.

Abubakar said Comp Air Aviation was selected from three US companies that responded to Nigeria's call for collaboration. NAF aerospace research and development experts will use the experience gained from working with the Florida-based company to grow and consolidate local technological skills in line with the organization's pursuit of self-reliance, the air marshall said.

The company's CEO said it has the skills and expertise required to support Nigeria's push for technological self-reliance in the aircraft industry.

The push for improved domestic capabilities follows Nigeria's success in refurbishing and recommissioning several helicopters, fixed-wing turbo-prop aircraft, fighter and trainer jets, and aerial defense systems.

In a briefing about progress made in 2016, NAF Director of Operations Air Vice Marshal Isiaka Oladayo Amao said one Russian-made Mi-17 was upgraded from search-and-rescue to strike configuration with the installation of in-house weapons systems.

Two of three Eurocopter EC-135 helicopters (now known as Airbus Helicopters) that were donated by the Nigeria Immigration Service in April had been refurbished and commissioned into service by year's end. In addition, two Mil Mi-17 attack helicopters were returned to active service following the acquisition and local installation of new engines.

Two more newly refurbished Russian-made Mi-35M helicopters have been taken for test flights ahead of possible induction into service. Amao said Air Force technicians also armed one L-39ZA aircraft with UB-16 launchers and a GSh-23 gun.

The technicians also constructed mounts for 12.7mm BMG guns on one EC-135 and one Mil Mi-17 helicopter, while successful upgrades were done on the camera systems of two Beechcraft aircraft.

The Air Force modernization program is run concurrently with an overseas personnel training component, which graduated 869 officers, including 101 pilots and 357 aerospace engineers and technicians. NAF locally trained 4,868 airmen, including 131 pilots and 643 aircraft engineers, maintenance technicians and ground staff in 2016.

Twitter: @Moroka

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