By Gabriel Enogholase
BENIN â€” IN its bid to ensure that the countryâ€™s maritime zone isÂ well policed, the Federal Government has acquired an ART-42 maritime patrol aircraft which was unveiled at the 81 Air Force Base in Benin on ThursdayÂ by Edo State governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole.
The aircraft would be deployed by the Nigerian Air Force in conjunction with the Nigerian Navy for the the countryâ€™s maritime and coastal surveillance, search and rescue, pollution control, anti-piracy and smuggling patrols, as well as illegal bunkering, among others.
Speaking at the induction of the aircraft, Minister of Defence, Major-Gen. Godwin Abbe (rtd), disclosed that apart from the ART-42 maritime patrol aircraft, â€œa C-130 Hercules was currently in Portugal undergoing PDM, upgrade of avionic systems, while the overhaul of and upgrade of the G-222s were still ongoing.
He said the Super Puma helicopters were also being refitted by Messers Eurocopter of France for reactivation.
General Abbe, who was represented on the occasion by the Director, Air Force, in the Ministry of Defence, Mr. Michael Idoko, added that a squadron each of F-7NI combat aircraft and Agusta 109 Light Utility helicopter would soon be provided for the Nigerian Air Force.
He disclosed that huge losses were incurred annually by the nation to illegal bunkering and mining of marine resources along its exclusive economic zone, with the perpetrators of the unwholesome acts freely going about their businesses, with the knowledge that the nation had neither the eyes to see them nor the teeth to bite.
â€œIt is, therefore, imperative that positive steps are taken to protect and preserve our vast marine resources. The acquisition of the ART-42 and the Agusta 109 Light Utility helicopter will no doubt enhance our capability in the maritime environment,â€ he said.
Air power again
Extending its appreciation to the Federal Government for its support to the Nigerian Air Force, the minister recalled that the Nigerian Air Force was the pride of the nation in the 80s and a dependable air power in West Africa, and lamented that the incursion of the military into politics in the 90s almost grounded its activities.
Earlier in his address, the Air Officer Commanding, Tactical Air Command, Air Vice Marshal J. O. Babalola, said that with the induction of the ART-42 into its fleet, the Nigeria Air Force was sending a signal to the international community that it was assuming its presence in the Gulf of Guinea.
The ART-42 patrol aircraft has a performance cruising speed of 350km/h, maximum speed of 555km/h, a range of 3,740 km and service ceiling of 7,600m (25,00feet).
It also has triple sensors arrangement, high resolution infra-red camera, high resolu-tion colour acquisition television, automatic tracker, 360 degree continuous azimuth scanning, among other devices it is fitted with.