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Tiny, cheap, 40-year-old trainer planes are fighting terrorism in Africa

Nigeria repurposed the Franco-German Alpha Jets into ultra-affordable attack fighters.

This post is appearing on Autoblog Military, Autoblog's sub-site dedicated to the vehicles, aircraft, and ships of the world's armed forces.

When it comes to the world's militaries, the US is lucky. Our government spends many billion dollars equipping our fighting men and women with cutting-edge military equipment that other nations can only dream of. But as we're about to show you, other militaries may use older equipment, but it doesn't mean they're any less effective at killing bad guys.

Meet Nigeria's Alpha Jet, the product of a collaboration between Germany and France in the 1970s. Designed originally as a trainer for the French Armée de l'air – that's one of France's Alphas up top – and the German Luftwaffe, Nigeria repurposed the tiny jet as a light, affordable means of taking the fight to the resident Islamic extremists of Boko Haram. And it's not difficult to understand why. They're small and light, and extremely easy for new pilots – in fact, War is Boring claims that the Alpha is so easy that French pilots had trouble adjusting to their more difficult to manage front-line fighters. Oh, and they're heavily armed. Despite a dry weight of just four tons, Nigeria usually outfits its Alphas with two 68-millimeter, unguided rocket pods – 18 rockets per pod – two 250-pound bombs, a pair of external fuel tanks, and a 27- or 30-millimeter cannon.

But perhaps the bigger motivator for Nigeria is that operating Alphas against Boko Haram is a relatively cheap proposition. For every hour in the air, the A-Jets need seven hours of maintenance – an F-16 needs 19 hours of work per flight hour. And used examples sell for as little as $950,000, while the Nigerian Air Force's jerry-rigging can convert a trainer-spec aircraft to a ground attacker for a scant $13,000. These little fighters could be a lesson to the US military – you can still get solid results without exorbitant spending.

War is Boring has an excellent and thorough recap of the Alpha Jet's history, both in its development and its operational history in Africa, which extends much further back than Boko Haram. It's a tiny, simple jet, but it has no trouble punching above its weight.

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