French To Order More NH-90s, Germans Fewer

 - July 12, 2013, 9:50 AM
A new-production TTH version of the NH-90 helicopter sits on the ramp at Eurocopter’s Marignane factory. (Photo: Chris Pocock)

The French Army is expected to confirm an option for 34 more Tactical Transport Helicopter (TTH) versions of the NH Industries NH-90 helicopter, when the 2013 French defense spending program is published shortly. The French have already bought 34 TTHs, as well as 27 NATO Frigate Helicopters (NFHs).

Meanwhile, the Germans have reduced their order of TTHs to 82 from 122, and partly compensated by ordering 18 NFHs. The German government concluded its negotiations with NH Industries (a joint venture among AgustaWestland, Eurocopter and Fokker) in March, but the process has recently been criticized in the German Parliament for saving little money, and for obliging the German Navy to take NH-90s when (critics allege) its preference was for the Sikorsky SH-60 Seahawk.

By late May, 144 of some 500 NH-90s on order had been delivered to 13 countries from five production lines: AgustaWestland in Italy, supplying 36; Eurocopter in Australia, 14; Eurocopter in France, 47; Eurocopter in Germany, 29; and Patria in Finland, 18. According to a Eurocopter press release, all countries were “very pleased with the first aircraft they received.” This statement seems at odds with the well publicized problems encountered by Australia, Germany and Sweden in particular, as they introduced the 11-tonne-class machine.

The Italian army has deployed NH-90 TTHs to Afghanistan, with the German army expected to follow suit this summer. In France, the introduction to service has been slow, although a Joint Training School for French army and navy crews was recently commissioned at le Luc. However, the French have deployed NFHs on frigates, and declared the helicopter ready for SAR and maritime counter-terrorism (MCT) missions. Operational evaluation of the NH-90 on anti-ship and anti-submarine missions continues. But the NFH “definitely matches our expectations,” a French Navy squadron commander recently told journalists in Marignane.

Meanwhile, five companies that provide avionics and other equipment for the NH-90 announced that they have signed a five-year maintenance contract with Eurocopter that will “help customers control their through-life support budgets.” The companies are Diehl, Liebherr, Safran, Thales and Zodiac, grouped together in OEM Defence Services. And EADS Cassidian announced that its Military Obstacle Warning System (Milows) has been qualified on the NH-90. The German army “will have the first military helicopters in the world to be fitted with a laser-based, real-time obstacle warning system,” the company said. Finland has also ordered Milows for its NH-90s.