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Nigeria expects first batch of Leonardo M-346 fighter jets this year

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ROME — Nigeria will take delivery of the first six of 24 Italian M-346 light fighter-trainer aircraft it has ordered by year end, the country’s Air Force has said.

Originally manufactured by Italy’s Leonardo as a twin-seater jet trainer, the M-346 has been acquired by Nigeria in its more recent, armed M-346FA fighter format.

The jets will be used for “close air support, air interdiction, and tactical reconnaissance as well as advanced pilot training,” the Air Force said in a statement.

The 24 aircraft are due to be delivered in four batches of six aircraft, with 25 years of logistic support included in the contract, the statement added.

Leonardo will profit from its maintenance operation on the aircraft in Nigeria to offer maintenance services there to its other clients in the region, the Air Force added.

The M-346FA, which has already reportedly been sold to Turkmenistan, offers seven external hard points and can integrate air-to-air and air-to-surface munitions and targeting pods linked to Helmet Mounted Displays.

Last year, Leonardo struck a deal to mount Nexter’s 20mm 20M621 gun pod on the jet, offering greater range and precision than the 12.7mm gun produced by Belgium’s FN Herstal, which was previously supplied with the aircraft.

Both types would have been available for the Nigerian purchase.

Leonardo has to date sold a total of 126 M-346 trainers and M-346FA aircraft, including the 24-jet sale to Nigeria, with customers for the trainer version including Italy, Israel, Poland, Singapore and Qatar.

Tom Kington is the Italy correspondent for Defense News.

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