Africa's military upgrades out in force

New military aircraft and upgrades have been ordered or delivered to many African countries, including Tunisia, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia. 

the first Nigerian T129

The handover of the first Nigerian T129. Photo: Nigerian Air Force


Honeywell and ST Engineering Defence Aviation Services (STEDAS) are to implement a major upgrade of the Tunisian Air Force’s two C-130J-30 tactical transport aircraft. Tunisia ordered two C-130J-30 in 2010, and the first of these was delivered in April 2013, marking the first-ever C-130J-30 delivery to an African nation. The second aircraft was delivered in January 2015.

The new upgrade will include the first integration of a Honeywell Aerospace Technologies Cockpit Display System Retrofit (CDSR) glass cockpit solution by STEDAS, though it is not clear whether this will be Honeywell’s three-display or five-display upgrade option. Whichever has been chosen, CDSR includes large format multi-function LCD displays, digital instruments and new air data and altitude sensors, as well as an RDR7000 weather radar, a Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) and advanced flight controls.

The upgrade will provide enhanced situational awareness, reduced workload, improved safety, as well as enhanced flexibility and efficiency.


On February 6, the Nigerian Air Force formally inducted its first two Turkish Aerospace T129 ATAK attack helicopters at a ceremony held at the NAF Base at Makurdi, attended by an array of VIPs, including Nigerian Army commander Taoreed Lagbaja, Hidayet Bayraktar, Turkish ambassador to Nigeria, and vice president Kashim Shettima. The first Beechcraft King Air 360ER aircraft was introduced to service at the same event.

The first pair of T129 ATAK Attack Helicopters were subsequently allocated to the Nigerian Air Force’s 115th Special Operations Group (the former 97th SOG) at Port Harcourt. The unit currently operates a mix of Mi-24P, Mi-24V and Mi-35 heavy assault/attack helicopters, together with Airbus Helicopters EC135s for observation and reconnaissance.

The Nigerian Air Force will receive four more T129 ATAK attack helicopters under the terms of the contract announced in July 2022. Two will be delivered during the second quarter of 2024, and the final pair will be delivered in the fourth quarter of 2024. Further orders may be placed, though Nigeria is also receiving 12 MD Helicopters MD530F Cayuse Warrior Plus reconnaissance/attack helicopters and 12 Bell AH-1Z attack helicopters.

These attack helicopters will be used against terrorist groups such as Boko Haram and ISWAP (Islamic State-West Africa Province), which Nigeria has been fighting since the early 2000s.

Air Marshal Hassan Abubakar, commander of the Nigerian Air Force, has said that the NAF will induct 46 new aircraft over a period of 18 months to combat terrorism and other threats. As well as the T129s, this total now seems likely to include the first of 12 Bell AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters from the United States.

The US originally approved the possible sale of 12 AH-1Zs to Nigeria In April 2022.

In August 2023, the US State Department revealed that: “Nigeria delivered the first payment for 12 AH-1Z attack helicopters worth a total of $997 million. The Foreign Military Sales (FMS) case includes an additional $25 million of funding allocated for Nigeria’s AGI programme, which continues to train the Armed Forces of Nigeria (AFN) on developing targeting processes that are legally compliant with international humanitarian law.”

On 19 December 2023, the US Department of Defence announced a contract award to Northrop Grumman for the production and delivery of an additional 32 “H-1 tech refresh mission computers in support of the AH-1Z aircraft for the government of Nigeria.”

The new attack helicopters will augment a range of recently-acquired aircraft and systems, including Embraer/Sierra Nevada A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft, CAC/PAC JF-17 Thunder fighter aircraft, and a range of UAVs, including Wing Loong II unmanned aerial vehicles from China and Bayraktar TB2, STM Togan, and Asisguard Songar UAVs from Turkey.


Neighbouring Ghana also aims to enhance its counter-insurgency capabilities, and on February 19, 2024 the Ghana Air Force, in partnership with Embraer Defence and Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), provided a display of the A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft’s capabilities at Accra Air Force Base.

According to some sources, Ghana is already engaged in a US $52.8m acquisition of the Super Tucano training and light attack aircraft from Embraer, the Brazilian aerospace company and the US Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC). Others suggest only that negotiations were launched after the February 19 demonstration.

Embraer's A-29 Super Tucano demonstrator
Embraer's A-29 Super Tucano demonstrator will bolster the Ghana Air Force's defensive and offensive capabilities. Photo: Ghana AF

Air Vice Marshal Frederick Asare Kwasi Bekoe, Ghana’s chief of the air staff, described the partnership with SNC and Embraer as a timely initiative to bolster the Ghana Air Force’s defensive and offensive capabilities, and highlighted the strategic significance of light attack aircraft in countering emerging terrorist threats. Ghana’s minister for defence, Dominic Nitiwul, also praised the A-29 Super Tucano as a vital asset in augmenting Ghana Air Force counter-insurgency and anti-terrorism capabilities.

If Ghana’s acquisition goes ahead, the nation would join Angola, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Nigeria as a regional operator of the Super Tucano. The type is already playing a vital role in enhancing border security and combatting instability in the Sahel region and beyond.


Air Forces in East Africa are also re-equipping and recapitalising their aircraft fleets in response to a continuing terrorist and insurgent threat. Kenya is waiting to receive 16 ex Republic of Korea Army MD500MD Defender helicopters, which were pledged by South Korea in 2021, during the UN peacekeeping forum in Seoul. The aircraft will be used to equip a new unit being formed to support United Nations peacekeeping missions.

Korean Air’s aerospace division built some 280 (or 283, according to some sources) MD500s under license between 1976 and 1984, and these are now being replaced in Korean service by the indigenous LUH-1 Surion.

On December 21 the first six of the 16 donated MD500s were shipped from the Korean Army Logistics Command’s general maintenance depot in Jinhae to the US for repairs and maintenance before delivery to Kenya under US State Department auspices.

The Kenyan Army’s 50th Air Cavalry Battalion already operates several MD500 variants (principally the H500E/H500MD/H500MG), of 40 delivered by the United States between 1980 and 1985. These were recently augmented by the delivery of six new MD530Fs to the co-located Joint Helicopter Command at Embakasi air base in December 2019.

The latter were acquired to support of the AMISOM mission in Somalia.


The Ethiopian Air Force (EAF) has recently taken delivery of two Sukhoi Su-30K ‘Flanker' fighters and an unknown number Baykar Bayraktar Akıncı armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

The Su-30Ks and Akıncı UAVs arrived in Ethiopia on January 16. The two Su-30Ks are believed to be part of a batch of 18 originally manufactured for the Indian Air Force. These were returned to Russia in 2007 and were replaced by more advanced Su-30MKIs. They were transferred to the 558th aircraft repair plant at Baranovichi, Belarus, before 12 were upgraded to Su-30SM standards and sold to Angola. Ethiopia seems to have now acquired the six remaining Su-30Ks, with four still to be delivered.


On January 9, 2024, the Italian government announced that Tanzania had ordered two Leonardo C-27J Spartan transport aircraft, primarily for civil support duties by the Jeshi la Anga la Wananchi wa Tanzania (Tanzania Air Force Command). The C-27J Spartans will be operated by the Transport Squadron at Dar Es-Salaam/Julius Nyerere air base and will be be equipped with kits for humanitarian, search-and-rescue, and firefighting missions. This, the announcement said, was because: “the new aircraft will be used by the Tanzanian authorities for firefighting operations on Mount Kilimanjaro and in the East African region.”

The C-27J Spartan is an advanced derivative of the earlier Alenia Aeronautica G.222, capable of operating in the most challenging environments and operating conditions, which makes it especially well suited to African air arms. Chad, Kenya, Morocco, and Zambia have acquired the type, which is also in service with (or on order for) Australia, Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Mexico, Peru, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and the United States Coast Guard and US Special Operations Command.

Leonardo has developed a new C-27J Next Generation (NG) variant, with new cockpit displays, weather radar, modern navigation and communications equipment, and undefined “advanced aerodynamic features,” though it is not clear as to whether Zambia will acquire the new variant.

Jon Lake

Jon Lake

Jon is defence editor for both Arabian and African Aerospace magazines.