A controversial proposal to sell 12 A-29 Super Tucano light-attack aircraft to Nigeria is moving ahead after Congress took no action to block it.

The U.S. State Department formally notified Capitol Hill of the potential deal Aug. 2, saying the $593 million transaction, including weapons, training, spare parts and support equipment, would help Nigeria fight terrorist groups and drug traffickers (Defense Daily, Aug. 3). Congress had 30 days to review and weigh in on the sale before the department could proceed with it.

Two Afghan Air Force A-29 Super Tucanos fly over Kabul in 2016. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Two Afghan Air Force A-29 Super Tucanos fly over Kabul in 2016. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The arms package “has completed the congressional notification process, and we are currently working to finalize the proposed sale with the Nigerian government,” a State Department official said Sept. 26.

Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), both members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had urged the State Department to delay the sale, arguing in a June 8 letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that Nigeria should first demonstrate progress in investigating several incidents in which its forces killed hundreds of civilians.

There “is evidence that the Nigerian military routinely flouts the laws of war, and there remains an absence of adequate safeguards and accountability mechanisms,” the senators wrote.

But the State Department countered that the A-29 offers improved targeting capabilities, which would help reduce the risk of civilian casualties, and that training included in the arms package would help Nigerian forces operate the aircraft in accordance with international human rights law and the law of armed conflict.

“Several other countries facing security challenges from terrorists and insurgent groups currently operate the A-29, including Afghanistan, Colombia and Lebanon,” a U.S. government official said. “We are pleased that Nigeria has also selected an American-made aircraft that in our view is well-suited to their needs.”

Sierra Nevada Corp. (SNC) is the prime contractor for the A-29, which is built at an Embraer plant in Jacksonville, Fla. According to the Booker-Paul letter, the turboprop aircraft will be mounted with machine guns and “will not be ready for delivery for at least another year at the earliest.”