In the mid-1980s, France, Federal Germany, the Netherlands and Italy undertook to jointly co-develop, within the framework of a NATO project, a new medium helicopter intended both to replace helicopters troop transport maneuvering, and devices specialized in anti-submarine warfare on board frigates. Great Britain joined the program in 1987, but, as usual, quickly withdrew to develop its own device, the Merlin. In 1992 the NHI (Nato Helcopter Industry) consortium was created, bringing together AgustaWestland (Futur Leonardo) for Italy, Fokker for the Netherlands and Airbus Hélicoptères for France and Germany. In 2001, Portugal joined the consortium, followed a few months later by Finland, Sweden and Norway who chose the European aircraft for the NSHP (Nordic Standard Helicopter Project) program. Equipped with advanced performance, particularly in terms of autonomy, electric neck controls and very modern avionics, the helicopter subsequently achieved several successes on the international scene, chosen in particular by Australia and New Zealand, Greece, Spain, Oman and Qatar. In total, 566 aircraft were ordered by 14 countries, including 418 in the land transport version and 148 in the naval version.
Despite these commercial successes, the European program encountered numerous difficulties, including significant delays and additional costs. Above all, several users have regularly complained about the low availability of their devices, as well as excessive implementation and ownership costs, exceeding €10,000 per flight hour according to several independent studies, i.e. the maintenance costs of a combat aircraft like the F-16. In addition, it seems that several armed forces have encountered significant difficulties in maintaining their aircraft such as in the management of their spare parts stocks, as well as in the deadlines for modernizing helicopters. These difficulties led Belgium and then Australia to announce the withdrawal of some of their aircraft , while in June 2022, Oslo announced its decision to purely and simply return all of its 14 NH90s to the NHI consortium while According to the Norwegian Ministry of Defense, they will only manage to secure 40% of the planned operational contract.
The black streak for NHI seems to show no signs of stopping. Indeed, on the occasion of the presentation of the new Defense investment and equipment plan , the Chief of Staff of the Swedish Armies announced, on November 1, Stockholm's decision to follow suit. Oslo, and to separate from the 13 NH90 HKP14E deployed by the Army, as well as the 5 HKP14F specialized in anti-submarine warfare and implemented by the Swedish Navy. The former will quickly be replaced by the American UH-60 Blackhawks, while the model which will replace the anti-submarine warfare helicopters has not yet been announced, even if the MH-60R Romeo is the big favorite. The Swedish decision is motivated, according to General Micael Biden, chief of staff of the Swedish armies, by the modernization costs requested by NHI in particular for the ASW combat version, as well as by significant problems of availability and maintenance, and very high ownership costs. As such, in 2018, a report from the Swedish accounting court estimated the price per flight hour of the ASM version of the aircraft at 242,000 crowns, or more than €25,000, while the Swedish armed forces had already had to order 15 UH-60s to cope with delivery times for the European aircraft.
The rest of this article is reserved for subscribers –
Classic subscriptions give access to all articles without advertising , starting at €1.99.