Spain Signs Deals To Double NH90 Fleet and Upgrade Chinooks

 - January 3, 2019, 10:32 AM
Spain's first batch of NH90s consisted of 22 GSPA tactical transport helicopters. The new batch adds 16 more of this version. (photo: Anthony Pecchi/NHIndustries)

Spain has signed a contract worth up to €1.38 billion ($1.57 billion) with Airbus Helicopters España—part of the NHIndustries consortium—to supply additional NH90 helicopters to the Ministry of Defense, doubling the number of the type that will be operated by the country’s armed forces. The contract, awarded by the MoD’s Directorate General of Armaments and Material (DGAM), was announced on January 2 and follows the Spanish Council of Ministers’ decision to approve the purchase in November 2018.

“The object of the authorized contract is the acquisition of 23 NH90 GSPA/MSPT helicopters destined for the helicopter fleet of the Ministry of Defense, which will be operated by the Army, the Air Force, and the Navy,” a statement from the Council of Ministers said.

“GSPA” is the designation for Spain’s indigenously built NH90 tactical transport helicopter, which the Spanish Army Airmobile Force (FAMET) began to take delivery of in 2014 as part of an order for 22 aircraft. The delivery of this initial tranche of helicopters was expected to be complete by 2021 and is ongoing.

The new contract will cover 16 additional GSPA variants, all likely to be assembled at Airbus Helicopters’ facility in Albacete. This facility is also responsible for manufacturing the front fuselage sections for all NH90 aircraft. The 11-tonne GSPA performs missions such as transporting up to 20 troops, search-and-rescue (SAR) missions, personnel recovery, and medical evacuation with up to 12 stretchers. It is equipped for day and night operations.

As part of this second tranche, Spain will also acquire seven new “MSPT” naval variants of the NH90. This will address an urgent requirement to begin replacing the Spanish navy’s Sikorsky SH-3D Sea Kings, as well as streamline the number of helicopter types being operated by the armed forces. Spain will eventually operate a total fleet of 45 NH90s, which was the number the country had initially contracted for in 2006 before it was reduced to just 22 helicopters for budgetary reasons.

The contract signals more positive news for the troubled helicopter program, which was also boosted last year with a new order from Qatar for 28 helicopters. Doha committed to purchasing 16 tactical transport variants and 12 naval variants of the twin-engine helicopter for 3 billion, taking the number of NH90s ordered up to 543 aircraft.

Germany is also due to take delivery of its first “Sea Lion” variant of the NH90 at the end of this year, with qualification expected in early 2019 and a military type certification soon after. A total of 18 aircraft will replace the German Navy’s Sea King Mk 41s and be used for SAR missions, maritime reconnaissance, special forces missions, and personnel and material transportation.

Spain’s helicopter force is to receive a further boost through the upgrade of its 17 Boeing CH-47D Chinooks to the CH-47F configuration, with digital automatic flight control systems, common avionics architecture, advanced cargo handling, and other enhancements. Announced by Boeing on January 3, this is the first order for a non-U.S. customer covered by the U.S. Army contract signed last July that included six CH-47Fs for the U.S. Army and options for up to 150 more for both U.S. and international customers. Boeing is currently developing the CH-47F Block II, with new rotor blades, redesigned fuel system, improved drivetrain, and structural improvements.