NHIndustries NH90

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NH90
NH-90 ILA-2006 2.jpg
An NH90 of the German Army
Role Medium transport/utility helicopter
Manufacturer NHIndustries
First flight 18 December 1995
Introduction 2007[1]
Status In service
Primary users French Army
Italian Army
Australian Defence Force
Finnish Army
Produced 1995–present
Number built 200 as of June 2014[2]
Unit cost
32.5 million[3] (~US$42m) (FY13) TTH
€36.4m[4] (~US$50m) (FY13) NFH support
€43.3m[4] (~US$59m) (FY13) NFH attack

The NHIndustries NH90 is a medium sized, twin-engine, multi-role military helicopter. It was developed in response to NATO requirements for a battlefield helicopter which would also capable of being operated in naval environments. The NH90 developed and is manufactured by NHIndustries, which is wholly owned by Airbus Helicopters, AgustaWestland and Fokker Aerostructures. The first prototype conducted its maiden flight in December 1995; the type began to enter operational service with some customers in 2007. As of 2013, a total of thirteen nations have placed orders for the NH90.

The NH90 has the distinction of being the first production helicopter to feature entirely fly by wire flight controls.[5] There are two main variants, the Tactical Transport Helicopter (TTH) for Army use and the navalised NATO Frigate Helicopter (NFH); each customer typically has various alterations and customisations made to their own NH90 fleets, such as different weapons, sensors and cabin arrangements, to meet their own specific requirements. In early service, the NH90 has suffered several teething issues, which has in turn delayed active deployment of the type by some operators.

Design and development[edit]

Origins[edit]

In 1985, France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom teamed to develop a NATO battlefield transport and anti-ship/anti-submarine helicopter for the 1990s. The United Kingdom left the team in 1987.[6] On 1 September 1992, NH Industries signed an NH90 design-and-development contract with NAHEMA (NATO Helicopter Management Agency).[7] This agency represented the four participating nations: France, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands. Portugal later joined the agency in June 2001. Design work on the helicopter started in 1993.[8] The first prototype, PT1, made the type's first flight on 18 December 1995.[6][8] The second prototype, PT2, first flew on 19 March 1997 and the third prototype, PT3, on 27 November 1998.[8] On 12 December 2002, PT3 became the first helicopter to fly exclusively with fly-by-wire controls following the removal of mechanical back-up controls.[9]

The NH90 was developed into two main variants: the Tactical Transport Helicopter (TTH) and the NATO Frigate Helicopter (NFH).[6] These two main variants share about 75% commonality with each other.[10] Furthermore, many of the operators have requested specific configurations to their own helicopter fleets, thus each nation's NH90 is effectively customized to the end-user's requirements. During the development phrase of the programme in the 1990s, both technical and funding problems were experienced.[11] In June 2000, the partner nations placed a large production order for a total of 366 helicopters.[6] Additional orders have since followed from customers in Europe, Asia, and Australia. By April 2013, a total of 529 NH90s of all variants were on order by various customers.[12]

Production[edit]

Cockpit of an NH90 during a public display

The NH90 was initially intended to be produced at three exporting assembly lines; Cascina Costa in Italy for AgustaWestland, Marignane in France and Donauwörth in Germany for Airbus Helicopters. The Nordic and Australian contracts stipulated production locally (the Nordic ones at Patria in Finland and the Australian ones in Brisbane). Spain has a final assembly line at Albacete.[13][14] The Marignane assembly line can reportedly complete up to 22 NH90s per year.[10] The programme ran into a 2-year production delay[when?].[citation needed]

Major components are produced by each of the shareholding companies:

  • Airbus Helicopters France 31.25% (Engines, Rotors, the Electrical, flight control and the core avionics systems)
  • Airbus Helicopters Deutschland 31.25% (Forward and centre fuselage, the fuel, communications and avionics control systems)
  • Fokker 5.5% (Tail structure, doors, sponsons, landing gear and the intermediate gearbox)
  • AgustaWestland 32% (Rear fuselage, main gearbox, hydraulic system, automatic flight control and plant management systems, power plant and the NFH mission system)

Items built by the shareholding companies are then distributed to the six locations for assembly and flight test (Marignane, France; Tessera, Italy; Donauworth, Germany; Halli, Finland; and Brisbane, Australia).[15]

In late 2006, the German Army was the first customer to start receiving NH90s. In 2007, further deliveries of the helicopters were made to Australian, Italian, French, Finnish, and Swedish customers; the first navalised NH90s were also delivered during 2007 to the Italian and French navies.[16] The Royal Netherlands Navy accepted delivery of its first NH90 NFH in April 2010.[17] Norway started to receive their NH90s in November 2011.[18] New Zealand received its first two NH90s in December 2011.[19] The French Army took delivery of its first NH90 TTH in December 2011.[20] On 21 December 2012, the Belgian armed forces received the first helicopter, from an order of 8. In the same ceremony the French Navy received their first NH90 NFH in final operating capability.[21]

Concerns over performance[edit]

The lowered rear cargo ramp of a German Army NH90

In 2010, German newspaper Bild reported that German Army experts had concerns that the helicopter was not yet ready for the transportation of combat troops. They stated that the seats were only rated for 110 kg (240 lb), not considered enough for a fully equipped soldier. Heavy infantry weapons could not be adequately secured and the cabin floor was prone to damage, citing an anecdote of damage caused by footwear. The helicopter could only land on firm ground, with obstacles not exceeding 16 cm (6.3 in). Troops carrying full equipment could not use the rear ramp due to limitations placed on it. Adding a door machine gun was not possible due to space taken by troop ingress and egress, there was also no provision for fast roping or paratroop equipment.[22] In response, the German Defense Ministry proclaimed that this article referred to a prototype, not to the production model; the specifications for which were not even finalised at the time. The prototype evaluation and its results were described as a normal procedure in an ongoing design process.[23]

In November 2011, the MRH90 program was placed on the Australian Department of Defence's "Projects of Concern" list.[24] The most serious problem identified by a diagnostic review, which caused a brief grounding in 2010,[25] is compressor blade rubbing caused by the bending of a spool in the Rolls-Royce Turbomeca RTM322 engine due to uneven cooling after shutdown. Other problems identified include failure of transmission oil cooler fans, windscreen cracking, an inertial navigation system that is slow to align, and the weakness of the cabin floor to withstand the impact of soldiers’ boots – a problem also encountered in German service.[26]

In March 2014, it was announced that a Dutch NH90 had suffered higher than expected fuselage wear and corrosion following an extended deployment at sea; analysis by the Dutch National Aerospace Laboratory attributed the corrosion to design and assembly flaws. In response, NHI Industries launched a corrosion prevention programme and enacted several design modifications.[27] In December 2014, Dutch NH90 deliveries, which had been temporarily halted earlier in the year, restarted after the majority of identified points were addressed and an agreement with the manufacturer to bear the cost of developing modifications, repairs, and preventive measures against corrosion.[28]

Operational history[edit]

Australia[edit]

Australian MRH90

In 2005, Australia ordered 12 aircraft to replace their aging fleet of Army UH-1 Iroquois helicopters. The number was revised in June 2006 when the Australian Defence Force announced plans to replace its UH-60 Black Hawk and Westland Sea King helicopters.[29] Australia ordered 34 additional NH90s, taking their total order to 46; four to be manufactured in Europe, and 42 to be manufactured locally at Australian Aerospace (an Airbus Helicopters subsidiary) in Brisbane.[30] The Australian version is known as the MRH-90 Taipan, where 'MRH' stands for Multi Role Helicopter.[31][32][33] Six of the helicopters are operated by 808 Squadron of the Royal Australian Navy, which was reformed for the first time since its 1958 decommissioning in 2011, and recommissioned in 2013.[33][34] The other 40 are operated by the Australian Army.

On 20 April 2010, an Australian Defence Force MRH90 suffered an engine failure near Adelaide. Only one engine was affected and the helicopter was landed safely at RAAF Base Edinburgh. The manufacturer has sent personnel to Australia to investigate the failure.[35] On 18 May the ADF announced that all of the Australian MRH90 fleet were grounded due to engine issues since the April incident.[36] The cause of the failure was determined as the compressor blade contacting the engine casing. New inspections were added to prevent the problem, and flights resumed in July 2010.[37]

In June 2011, the NFH variant lost to the Sikorsky MH-60R in competition to replace the Royal Australian Navy S-70B Sea Hawks.[38]

In July 2014, the Australian National Audit Office released a report on the MRH90 fleet, citing a series of procurement errors and development deficiencies delaying final operational capability (FOC), originally planned for that month, until April 2019, nearly five years later than planned. Some nine years after the initial contract was signed, the models first delivered in 2007 had not validated any of the 11 set operational capability milestones, and forced redesigns including bolstered cabin floors and windscreens, rappelling hooks, and door gunner positions; obtaining spare parts and sustaining the helicopters has also been more costly. The Australian Army will be forced to operate its aging S-70A Black Hawk beyond their planned retirement date.[39]

Due to delays in the program, Australia will receive an additional helicopter, bringing the total to 47.[citation needed]

Belgium[edit]

In 2007 Belgium signed on for an order of 10 aircraft, 4 TTH, 4 NFH and an option for 2 TTH.[40] In September 2012, NHI performed the first flight of the Belgium’s Tactical Transport Helicopter (TTH) The aircraft is similar to the French NH90 “Caiman” version.[41] In January 2013, eight NH90s were on firm order.[42] On 1 August 2013, Belgium received its first NH90 NFH at Full Operational Capability (FOC). Training of Belgium Navy flight and maintenance crews were to begin in September, with operations beginning in 2014.[43] Belgium's first NH90 troops transport entered service on 23 October 2013, with the last delivered on 13 November 2014. From first delivery until the last, three NH90s flew 34 hours a month for a total of 450 flight hours with a 67 percent availability rate, making Belgium one of the most intensive users of the helicopter. Two NH90 frigate versions for the navy had been delivered, with the final two to be delivered by early 2015 to replace their Westland Sea King helicopters.[44]

Finland[edit]

In October 2001, Finland signed a contract for 20 NH90 TTHs for the Finnish Army to replace their ageing fleet of Mil Mi-8 helicopters.[45] In March 2008, NH Industries began NH90 deliveries to Finland;[46] deliveries had been delayed from an initial 2004 date, to minimize further delay, aircraft were first delivered to a Initial Operational Configuration (IOC-) and Nearly Operational Configuration (IOC+), to be later modified by Patria into a Final Operational Configuration (FOC).[47][48] In September 2011, the Finnish Defence Forces and Patria signed an agreement to provide ballistic protection for both pilots and airlifted passengers across the NH90 fleet.[49] In June 2012, nine Finnish NH90s participated in the Finnish Defense Forces' main field exercise, transporting 157 soldiers across 320 kilometers in two rotations; their performance was described as having exceeded expectations.[50]

France[edit]

The French government had initially ordered a total of 34 NH90 TTHs, for the ALAT and 27 NFH for the Navy.[51] Both versions will be named "Caïman" and final assembly will be carried out by Airbus Helicopters.[42][52] The French Army had intended to buy 68 NH90; however, the April 2013 defence review could have cancelled the contract for the second batch of 34.[12] Under the "Bonn rebate" deal, France receives a 12% discount on its 68 Army helicopters; a November 2012 Senate report put the French TTH per unit price at €28.6M after discount, which was set on the assumption of total orders of 605 aircraft by 2020. Cut to France's order would result in workshare reallocation; possibly including French Navy NFH90s being assembled in Italy and Fokker performing maintenance of French TTHs.[12] On 29 May 2013, France formally ordered the second batch of 34 NH90 TTH helicopters for just under €1 billion.[53]

In December 2010, the NH90 formally achieved in-service status with the French Navy, being initially used to perform search and rescue and maritime counter-terrorism operations. The first seven aircraft were delivered to an interim "Step A" configuration; following aircraft were delivered to the "Step B" standard and are forecast to be delivered at a rate of two per year until 2020.[10] The French Navy formally cleared the type to perform anti-surface warfare duties in 2012, clearance to perform anti-submarine warfare missions followed in 2013, allowing the NH90 to take over the missions previously performed by the Navy's Westland Lynx and Aérospatiale Super Frelon helicopter fleets.[10] On 3 November 2014, the French Army Light Aviation deployed two of its NH90s to Mali; both helicopters had been fitted with three additional fuel tanks to fly the four day ferry flight to the region.[54]

Germany[edit]

A German Army NH90 during a flight demonstration

The German Army chose to procure the troop transport variant; in January 2013, a total of 80 aircraft were on order for the Army.[42] In addition, the German Navy also considering the procurement of up to 30 NFH for their new Maritime Helicopter in 2009.[55] In March 2013, the German government chose to reorganise the NH90 procurement; the Army's fleet of 122 NH90s was reduced to 82; 18 NH90s previously ordered for the German Army were converted to the NFH maritime variant for the Navy instead.[56] On 26 June 2013, the German defense committee declared that the order for a combined 202 NH90 and Tiger helicopters were to be reduced to 157.[57] In December 2014, Germany announced that, in addition to the 80 troop transports firmly on order, it was considering an option for an additional 22 NH90s; it was investigating the possibility of setting up a multinational helicopter unit to operate these 22 helicopters as a shared NATO resource with other nations using and contributing to the force.[58][59]

In July 2012, the German NH90 fleet reached a combined total of 5,000 flight hours.[60] In April 2013, up to 4 German Army NH90 TTH were deployed in Afghanistan in a Forward Air Medical Evacuation role in support of coalition forces operating in the country.[61] On 23 June 2013, German Army NH90s were declared operationally capable of medical evacuation operations.[62] Following an engine failure and controlled crash in Uzbekistan in July 2014, the German Army temporarily grounded the type for investigation.[63]

Greece[edit]

In August 2003, Greece ordered 20 NH90s with an option for 14 more.[64] By April 2014, eight NH90 TTH aircraft had been delivered and three more were expected by the end of the year.[65]

Italy[edit]

Italian Army NH90; note the Minigun door gun

In June 2000 Italy signed on for a batch of 60 TTH (Tactical Transport Helicopter) for the Italian Army, along with a further 46 NFH (NATO Frigate Helicopter) and 10 TTH for the Italian Navy.[66] On 30 December 2007, the first NH90 TTH was formally handed over to the Italian Army.[67] On 23 June 2011, the Navy received its first NH90, which was delivered to an interim MOC (Meaningful Operational Capability) standard, capable of performing training, search and rescue, and utility operations; anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare capabilities were not initially available until aircraft are retrofitted to a FOC (Final Operational Capability) standard.[68] In May 2013, the Italian Army took delivery of the first NH90 TTH of a FOC standard;[69] in November 2013, the Italian Navy took delivery of their first FOC-standard NH90 NFH.[70]

In 2012, Italy deployed a total of 5 Army NH90 TTHs to support troops participating in the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.[71] The NH90s, which were air-transported individually by allied Boeing C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft, replaced six Agusta/Bell 205s in performing tactical transport and medevac operations; Army Aviation Commander Gen. Enzo Stefanini stated that "...in Afghan conditions, the NH90 is delivering performance 15 percent above what was envisaged".[72]

Netherlands[edit]

Dutch NFH

The Netherlands, is one of the original supporters of the programme, which has 20 units on order: 12 NFH for the Royal Netherlands Navy,[73] and 8 TNFH for the Air Force.[74][75][42] In 2010, the Royal Netherlands Navy became the first customer to receive the NFH variant.[76]

In 2009, concerns surfaced that design changes had made the helicopter too heavy to operate from Dutch frigates for which they were ordered.[77] In June 2014, the Dutch government decided not to accept the last batch of 7 NH90s due to some 100 shortcomings found in relation to the design, manufacturing and material choice of the aircraft, in particular corrosion in the presence of salt water.[78][79] In December 2014, NH90 deliveries restarted after the Dutch government came to an agreement with the manufacturer, under which modifications and necessary repairs against corrosion would be made at the manufacturer's cost; 75 of the 100 shortcomings were also reported as having been solved.[28][80]

In April 2013, the Navy deployed the type onboard HNLMS De Ruyter (F804) to fight piracy in the Gulf of Aden.[81] In November 2014, the Royal Netherlands Navy deployed a single NH90NFH to Somalia to support Operation Atalanta in Somalia.[82]

New Zealand[edit]

In July 2006, the New Zealand Government signed a NZ$771 million (~€500M) contract to purchase eight NH90s (plus one extra for spares) to replace the Royal New Zealand Air Force's (RNZAF) fleet of 13 UH-1 Iroquois.[42][83] For ease of manufacture and logistics, New Zealand deliberately chose their NH90 configuration to be near-identical to the larger Australian fleet.[84] On 7 December 2011, deliveries to New Zealand formally began with the first two NH90s being airlifted by a leased Antonov An-124 cargo aircraft to RNZAF Base Ohakea. In February 2013, the first phase of the RNZAF's operational evaluation of the NH90 was completed, allowing operational duties to begin.[84] Between September 2013 and July 2014, the first four delivered NH90s were retrofitted to a final operational configuration; later aircraft were already delivered to this standard.[85] On 31 October 2014, the RNZAF announced that they had received into service the last of the eight NH90 TTHs.[84]

Norway[edit]

In December 2011, the first Norwegian NH90 helicopter was delivered.[86] The following July an announcement by the Norwegian Deputy Defence Minister Roger Ingebrigtsen stated that "once our current Westland Lynx helicopters reach their end of life in 2014, we are going to have replacement helicopters on our naval vessels. If the NH90 hasn’t been delivered, we will purchase another helicopter." He also said that "considering that the aircraft were to be delivered by 2005, and that delivery is yet to start by 2012, our confidence in the producer isn't exactly on the rise"[87] On August 14, 2012 it was reported that the Royal Norwegian Air Force, would be recommending that the Department of Defence, contact Sikorsky, asking for an offer, in order to verify whether some of the versions of the H-60 Seahawk, specifically the MH-60R would be a viable alternative to the NH-90 in the Anti-submarine warfare (ASW) role. Further reports quoted Lieutenant Colonel Per Egil Lindqvist, acting leader of the Development Staff at the RNoAF "We are still hoping for the NH90, and we hope that NHIndustries realize the gravity of the situation." They went on to quote Defence Minister Espen Barth Eide, saying "We still believe the marine version of the NH90 to be the optimal platform, and we hope to purchase it, but there are limits to our patience."[88] By January 2013, Norway had ordered a total of 14 NH90s.[42]

Oman[edit]

In July 2004, the Sultanate of Oman issued an order for a total of 20 NH90 TTHs for the Royal Air Force of Oman (RAFO). To cope with the extreme flight conditions of the Middle East, RAFO NH90s are equipped with enhanced power plants; the type is to replace the Agusta/Bell 205A and Agusta/Bell 212 used for tactical transport and search and rescue operations.[89] On 23 June 2010, the first two NH90 TTHs were delivered to the RAFO at Musana Air Base.[90] By July 2012, ten NH90s had been delivered to the RAFO; in Omani service, the NH90 has established an endurance record, flying 700 nautical miles without refueling during a 5 hour 21 minute-long mission.[91]

Spain[edit]

On 20 May 2005 the Council of Ministers authorised the acquisition of 45 NH90 TTHs; in December 2006, it was announced that a procurement contract for the Spanish Armed Forces had been signed. The Spanish NH90 variant features domestically-assembled General Electric CT7 8F5 engines, customised communications suite, and Indra-developed electronic warning systems.[92] The original budget for the procurement was for €1,260 million; by 2010, this had grown to €2,463M.[93] In June 2012, it was announced that Spain was negotiating to cut their purchase to 37 aircraft.[94] On 18 December 2014, Spain took delivery of the first NH90 TTH, which had been assembled at Airbus Helicopters Albacete facility; by this point, the order had been reduced to a total of 22 NH90s of the TTH variant.[95]

Sweden[edit]

The first Swedish HKP14, a High Cabin Version (HCV) of the NH90

In 2001, Sweden signed a contract for 18 helicopters, made up of 13 TTT/SAR and 5 ASW variants to be operated by the Swedish Air Force.[96][97] The NH90 is known as the Helikopter 14 (HKP14) in Swedish service, with the NFH designated HKB14B.[98] By January 2013, Sweden had ordered 18 NH90s with six helicopters delivered.[42] Sweden did not expect their NH90s to be operational until 2020 and ordered 15 UH-60M Black Hawks in 2011,[99] Sweden deployed four of their new Black Hawks to Afghanistan in March 2013.[100]

Cancelled orders[edit]

Portugal

Portugal was the fifth nation to join the programme with an order for ten transport NH90 in June 2001, to equip the Portuguese Army Light Aviation Unit. In 2012, the financial crisis led Portugal to cancel the order despite having already spent €87m on the project, in order to save another €420m in acquisition and running costs to 2020.[101]

Saudi Arabia

In July 2006, the Saudi Government agreed to purchase 64 NH90s.[102] Then in October 2007 the government changed its plans, and agreed to buy 150 Russian-made Mi-35 and Mi-17 helicopters instead.[103]

Variants[edit]

NFH: NATO Frigate Helicopter[edit]

The primary role of the NFH version is autonomous anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and anti-surface unit warfare (ASuW), mainly from naval ships. These aircraft are equipped for day and night, adverse weather and severe ship motion operations. Additional roles include anti-air warfare support, vertical replenishment (VERTREP), search and rescue (SAR) and troop transport. France are splitting their purchase between the "NFH version combat" costing €43.3m in FY2013 and the "NFH version soutien" (support) at €36.4m in FY2013.[4]

TTH: Tactical Transport Helicopter[edit]

Papua New Guinean troops seated combat laden in a New Zealand NH-90.

The primary role of the TTH version is the transport of 20 troops or more than 2,500 kg of cargo, heliborne operations and search & rescue. It can quickly be adapted to MEDEVAC/CASEVAC missions by fitting up to 12 stretchers or cargo delivery capability. Additional roles include medical evacuation (12 stretchers), special operations, electronic warfare, airborne command post, parachuting, VIP transport and flight training.

Sweden has bought the High Cabin Version (HCV) of both the TTH and NFH, in which the cabin height is increased by 24 cm (9.4 in) to 1.82 m (6.0 ft).[104] The Swedish aircraft have a Tactical Mission System developed by SAAB[104] and are designated HKP14. Finnish and Swedish TTHs are called Tactical Troop Transports (TTT) in some contexts.

Designations[edit]

Hkp14
Swedish military designation for NH90 TTH[105]
Hkp14B
Swedish military designation for NH90 NFH
MRH-90 Taipan
Australian military designation for NH90 TTH[33]
SH-90A
Italian military designation from 2012 for NH90 NFH.[106]
UH-90A
Italian military designation from 2012 for NH90 TTH.[106]

Operators[edit]

Finnish NH90
New Zealand NH90
NH90 performing an external lift of a German Army Wolf vehicle
 Australia
 Belgium
 Finland
 France
 Germany
 Greece
 Italy
 Netherlands
 New Zealand
 Norway
 Oman
 Spain
 Sweden

Notable accidents and incidents[edit]

On 1 June 2008, a NH90 tactical transport helicopter struck the water and sank into Lake Bracciano, northwest of Rome, Italy. The helicopter was diving after completing a Fieseler Maneuver at the Lake Bracciano Air Show. Aircraft Commander Captain Filippo Fornassi was killed and co-pilot Captain Fabio Manzella was injured in the accident.[109] The helicopter was a hull-loss.[110][111]

Specifications[edit]

NH90 orthographical image.svg

Data from International Directory[112]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 2 pilots (and possible sensor operator on NFH)
  • Capacity: 20 seated troops; or 12 medevac stretchers; or 2 NATO pallets; or 4,000 kg (8,818 lb) external slung load
  • Length: 16.13 m (52 ft 11 in)
  • Rotor diameter: 16.30 m (53 ft 6 in)
  • Height: 5.23 m (17 ft 2 in)
  • Empty weight: 6,400 kg (14,100 lb)
  • Useful load: 4,200 kg (9,260 lb)
  • Max. takeoff weight: 10,600 kg (23,370 lb)
  • Powerplant: 2 × Rolls-Royce Turbomeca RTM322-01/9 turboshaft, 1,662 kW (2,230 shp) each, or:
  • Powerplant: 2 × General Electric T700-T6E turboshaft, 1,577 kW (2,115 shp) each

Performance

Armament

  • Missiles: anti-submarine and/or air to surface missiles (NFH version), 2x door gun

See also[edit]

Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era

References[edit]

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