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Nigeria says U.S. agrees sale of 12 A-29 light attack aircraft in $593 million deal delayed by Obama

Nigeria’s air force said the United States has agreed to sell 12 A-29 Super Tucano aircraft, resurrecting a deal stalled by the Obama administration over concerns about human rights violations.

The U.S. ambassador to Nigeria presented letters of offer and acceptance to Nigeria’s air force on Wednesday, December 27, the Nigerian Air Force said in a statement, Reuters reported.

The $593 million sale was approved in August and includes 12 A-29s, weapons, training, spare parts, aviation and ground support equipment, hangar, facilities, and infrastructure.

Deal delayed over refugee camp bombing

In one of his last actions in office, former U.S. President Barack Obama stalled the sale after the Nigerian Air Force ‘mistakenly’ bombed a refugee camp in January. The NAF said an aircraft was on a mission against Islamic State affiliate Boko Haram when it struck the camp, killing more than 100 refugees and aid workers.

However, the Trump administration decided to re-activate the deal in April. The August Defense Security Cooperation Agency release said the sale was to support “Nigerian military operations against terrorist organizations Boko Haram and ISIS West Africa, and Nigerian efforts to counter illicit trafficking in Nigeria and the Gulf of Guinea.”

Final agreements to be signed

The Nigerian Air Force statement said NAF personnel will meet U.S. government officials in January to discuss early delivery of the aircraft and that the final agreements will be signed and payments made before February 20.

U.S. authorities have not yet confirmed the sale.

A-29 Super Tucanos over Afghanistan
Two Afghan Air Force A-29 Super Tucano light air support aircraft fly over Afghanistan, March 22, 2017. Image: US Air Force/Senior Airman Jordan Castelan

Recent A-29 sales

Sales of the A-29 have been brisk recently. The turboprop aircraft is built in Brazil by Embraer and in the U.S. by a partnership between Embraer and Sierra Nevada Corporation.

In November, the Philippines ordered six A-29 Super Tucano light attack and advanced training aircraft from Embraer.

In October, the U.S. Air Force ordered six additional A-29s for the Afghan Air Force, bringing to 26 the total number of planes to be supplied under the Afghanistan Program. In November, Afghan Air Force A-29s conducted the first strike in Operation Jagged Knife, the new campaign against Taliban drug production facilities.

Also in October, the Lebanese Army received two of at least six A-29 Super Tucanos it ordered using a $1 billion grant received from Saudi Arabia in 2014. The contract for the planes is expected to be completed by July 2019. Lebanese pilots train on the aircraft in the U.S.

A-29 Super Tucano, Afghanistan
An A-29 Super Tucano light air support aircraft delivered to Hamid Karzai International Airport, Afghanistan, January 15, 2016. Image: US Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Nathan Lipscomb

Ground attack and reconnaissance in low-threat environments

The A-29 is a durable and flexible aircraft designed for counter-insurgency and close air support roles. It can also be used for reconnaissance missions in low-threat environments and for pilot training, and is capable of operating from unimproved runways.

The Super Tucano is relatively cheap to buy, fly and maintain, costing around $18 million each depending on configuration and about $1,000 per flying hour. It is powered by a variant of the world’s most popular turboprop engine – the Pratt & Whitney Canada PT 6 – rather than a jet. Embraer says the A-29 has been selected by 14 air forces worldwide and has clocked up more than 320,000 flight hours and 40,000 combat hours.

The A-29 was among three aircraft that were tested by the U.S. Air Force in July and August in the Light Attack Experiment, which was designed to assess the potential of low-cost light attack aircraft to conduct the missions most frequently flown including close air support, air interdiction, combat search and rescue, and strike coordination and reconnaissance.

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