Mr Claudio Sabatino, Vice President of Messrs Leonardo, has assured the Chief of Air Staff, Air Mashal Hasan Abubakar, of his company’s unwavering commitment to the timely delivery of six M-346 fighter aircraft expected in Nigeria before the end of year 2024.

The six M-346 fighter aircraft to be delivered before the end of the year is the first batch of the aircraft expected by the Nigerian Air Force.

Mr Sabatino stated this when he paid a visit to Nigerian Air Force Headquarters on Wednesday, 17 April 2024.

The PUNCH had reported that the Federal Government is acquiring 24 M-346 fighter aircraft from Messrs Leonardo of Italy in a move that marked a significant step in Nigeria Air Force’s ongoing efforts to modernize its fleet as well as bolster its operation effectiveness.

The aircraft expected to arrive in Nigeria in four trenches of six each, with the first trench billed to arrive before the end of the year 2024.

Confirming the development in a statement on Friday, the Director of Public Relations and Information, Nigerian Air Force, Edward Gabkwet said the Air Chief, Abubakar, commended the move.

Gabkwet said, “While thanking the CAS for the warm reception accorded him and his entourage, Mr Sabatino also stated that further engagement between the NAF and his Company would be necessary to conclude other aspects of the project such as the commencement of pilots and engineering training.

“Speaking further, Mr Claudio assured the CAS that when finally completed, the maintenance of the aircraft fleet would not constitute a challenge as there is a binding agreement for Leonardo’s maintenance support for a minimum of 25 years.

“He also noted that the manufacturing of the aircraft fleet has reached an appreciable state and is being carried out with the utmost skill and expertise.

“The assurance of long-term maintenance support provided by Leonardo was particularly met with appreciation by the CAS, who recognized the inherent value of such commitment in ensuring the sustained operational readiness of the entire aircraft fleet,”

He added that reflecting on the journey thus far, Air Marshal Abubakar also acknowledged the challenges overcome and expressed optimism for the future trajectory of the partnership.

“Envisioning the operational impact that the M-346 fighter aircraft brings to the fore, Air Marshal Abubakar went on to underscore its dual role in bolstering training capabilities and augmenting operational effectiveness in diverse mission scenarios.

“Moreover, the prospect of close air support, Air Interdiction, and tactical reconnaissance as well as Advanced Pilot Training capabilities inherent in the M-346 fighter aircraft heralded a new prospect for NAF’s operational versatility.

The CAS further proposed the establishment of a dedicated Program Management Office, tasked with overseeing all facets of the collaboration.

“Air Marshal Abubakar also used the opportunity of the visit to reiterate the significance of Messr Leonardo’s physical presence in Nigeria as a maintenance hub for their long list of African clientele, while also emphasizing the need for close coordination and synergy in achieving shared objectives with regards to the expeditious delivery of the fleet.

“Moving forward, both parties concurred on the importance of regular dialogue and collaboration as well as scheduling future meetings to delve into detailed arrangements on logistics, maintenance protocols, and configuration requirements,” the statement added.