Keeping Indian Offer On Backburner, Nigeria Acquires 1st Batch Of T129 ATAK Choppers From Turkey

In a boost towards its fight against Boko Haram militants, the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) has acquired the first batch of two TAI T-129 ATAK attack helicopters from Turkey.

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The development marks a significant enhancement in Nigeria’s military capabilities in the long-running effort to modernize its defense forces and maintain its status as one of the leading military in Africa.

The procurement preceded a two-year negotiation between Nigerian defense officials and Turkey’s Tusas Engine Industries (TAI) through 2021 and 2022.

“This engagement resulted in a contract for the procurement of six TAI T-129 ATAK helicopters being signed by Nigeria in July 2022, with an estimated unit price of US$45 million,” said a report on Military Africa

Nigeria has also employed Chinese-made Wing Loong 2 unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAV) in the fight against Boko Haram, and it can be expected to face even more complex operations by Abuja.

However, this also marks attack helicopters becoming a symbol of the Turkish defense industry and military exports after carving a niche in combat UAVs like the TB-2 Bayraktar and the Ankinci drones. 

File Image: T129 Chopper

ATAK Attacks the Attack Helicopter Market

The twin-engine lightweight-class T129 was designed and manufactured jointly by Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) and Italy’s AgustaWestland. The Philippines received four of its six T129 ATAK helicopters, with the remaining two to be delivered by 2024, and has been reported to be considering buying another six. 

In 2018, Pakistan opted to acquire T-129s to replace its fleet of AH−1F Cobras. Islamabad had signed a $1.5B deal with TAI for 30 T129s. However, the US declined to issue the export license for the engines.

The ATAK’s T-8004A turboshaft engines are an export version of the LHTEC T800-4A power plant, a joint venture between US firm Honeywell and British defense and Aero Engine prime Rolls-Royce. Washington has stalled its exports over the Turkish acquisition of the Russian S-400 air defense system.

Iraq’s defense minister had announced a plan to purchase 12 ATAK units, while Ankara is also looking at Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil as potential customers.

Reports said a Turkish Air Force A400M cargo plane carrying the T-129 attack helicopters touched down at the NAF Headquarters Tactical Air Command in Makurdi, Benue State, on November 1. It took off from the TAI facility near Ankara.

Nigeria had finally settled on the ATAK after negotiating with international manufacturers, including European-based Airbus. But a visit by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to Nigeria in October 2021 accelerated the deal.

Nigeria also operates a diverse fleet of attack helicopters, including the AgustaWestland AW-109 and the Russian Mi-24/Mi-35. It is set to receive 12 US-made AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters for a US$875-million deal. 

Recently, Nigeria was keen to explore the Indian-built Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas, Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) ‘Prachand,’ Light Utility Helicopter (LUH), and Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) ‘Dhruv.’

HAL officials had confirmed to the EurAsian Times that Nigerian representatives had seen the aircraft but are yet to fly them. The negotiations are still in preliminary stages.

Defense Advisor to Nigerian High Commission in India Commodore Anthony Victor Kujoh noted in 2022: “Nigeria would not only like to further enhance the business relationship with HAL for training, but also towards asset acquisition.”

The arrival of the T-129 ATAK helicopters is expected to enhance Abuja’s counterterrorism efforts, as the Turkish aircraft has a significant reconnaissance and surveillance capability, given the presence of a powerful nose-mounted electro-optical turret. 

Nigeria can also be expected to try and operate its Chinese Wing Loong drones and the Turkish helicopters together, experimenting with the units using the drones, and the choppers can function together in joint reconnaissance-strike missions. 

Such an essential integration will not require technical intervention from the Chinese and Turkish manufacturers. It would only be a logical next step to fuse two high-performance aerial combat systems that can complement each other’s capabilities. 

It would be interesting to see how the security situation evolves in Nigeria for the NAF to employ its full capabilities where the T129 and Wing Loong drones operate together. It is a matter of the units flying the drones and the helicopters to evolve tactics and procedures to handle the different yet mutually supporting air-to-ground combat platforms. 

ATAK Helicopter & Planned TB-2 Acquisition 

The TAI T-129 ATAK is a versatile and highly maneuverable twin-engine attack helicopter well-suited for various missions, including border patrol, search and rescue, and fire support.

If not the Wing Loong drones, the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) will indeed fuse the T129 ATAK with Turkey’s own TB-2 Bayraktar, as Nigerian defense news handles have repeatedly hinted. 

On August 19, @DefenseNigeria posted on X (formerly Twitter) as a part of a thread on the NAF inventory and modernization program that it can go beyond operating its “barely 50% capacity (when it takes) delivery of the AH-1Z Viper attack helicopter, M346-FA multi-role fighter, T-129 ATAK helicopter, TB2 drones among others.” 

Air Recognition on August 30, quoting various Nigerian political figures, regional governors, and Senators associated with its military acquisition processes, said Abuja was on the way to receive six TB-2 units. It also stated that Nigerian UAV pilots and technical crew were undergoing training in Turkey.