Norway has terminated its two-decade-old contract with an Airbus-led consortium of European aircraft and defense manufacturers, NATO Helicopter Industries (NHI), for the acquisition of 14 NH90 medium-lift helicopters, citing 20 years of frustration deal with delays, errors, and time-consuming maintenance.
“Unfortunately, we have come to the conclusion that no matter how many hours our technicians work and how many parts we order, it will never make the NH90 capable of meeting the requirements of the Norwegian Armed Forces,” said Norwegian Defense Minister Bjørn Arild Gram in a statement released on June 10.
“Based on a joint recommendation from the armed forces and associated departments and agencies, the Norwegian government has therefore decided to discontinue the introduction of the NH90 and has authorized the Norwegian Defense Materiel Agency to terminate the contract. “
On top of that, the Norwegian government also wants to recover the $500 million it paid NHI for the 13 helicopters in its fleet, plus interest and other expenses.
Norway had sign the initial contract for 14 NH90s in 2001, 8 for the coast guard and 6 for anti-submarine warfare aboard the Fridtjof Nansen class frigates. They were meant to replace the Westland Lynx in anti-submarine warfare, utility, search and rescue, and other maritime missions.
The helicopters were originally scheduled for delivery in late 2008, however, only eight have been delivered so far in a fully operational configuration and even they are unable to perform the missions for which they were purchased.
The fleet is currently required to provide 3,900 flight hours per year, but in recent years it has only averaged around 700 hours.
“We have tried several times to solve the problems with the NH90 in cooperation with NHI, but more than 20 years after the signing of the contract, we still do not have helicopters capable of carrying out the missions for which they were designed. procured, and without NHI being able to present us with realistic solutions,” said Gro Jære, Director General of the Norwegian Defense Materiel Agency.
The helicopter was developed in the mid-1990s by NHI, a partnership between European companies Airbus Helicopters, Leonardo Helicopters and Fokker Technologies based in Aix-en-Provence, France.
The aircraft is used by a total of 14 countries, including Australia, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Oman, Qatar, Spain and Sweden.
By an interesting coincidence, the Qatari Air Force accepted its fifth NH90 on the same day that Norway abandoned its entire NH90 fleet.
The Emir of Qatar’s Air Force recently accepted its 5th #NH90. This last acceptance confirms the excellent relationship with the Client. In 6 months, 3 naval 🚁 assembled at @LDO_Helicopters in Italy & 2 TTH 🚁 from @AirbusHeli in France were delivered. pic.twitter.com/tTxMiA8mDn
— NHIndustries (@NHIndustriesSAS) June 10, 2022
The helicopter was designed provide European NATO countries with a standard and interoperable multirole rotorcraft for coastal patrol, anti-submarine warfare, search and rescue and utility operations.
So far, 471 NH90s have reportedly been delivered by NHI to its customers, and the worldwide fleet has reportedly logged just over 327,000 flight hours.
NHI disappointed with Norway’s decision
Meanwhile, NHI said it was “extremely disappointed” with Norway’s decision and “refutes the allegations made against the NH90 as well as against the company”. The company also questioned the legality of Norway’s termination of the NH90 contract, but did not explicitly threaten legal action.
NHI said it was not offered the opportunity to discuss a proposal to improve the availability of NH90 in Norway or meet Norway’s requirements.
“The inherent characteristics of the NH90 provide all armed forces with advanced and fully integrated mission capability, survivability, speed, range, stealth, and unparalleled night and all-weather operations. in the world in its class. In its naval configuration, it is an unrivaled asset to meet the needs of the Norwegian Armed Forces, enabling the most advanced surveillance capabilities in the North Sea, just as the NH90 does elsewhere in Europe at sea protecting nations,” said declared NHI in a June. 10 statement.
“NHIndustries and its partner companies are and have always been absolutely committed to addressing the concerns previously expressed and providing the appropriate and tailor-made solutions to meet Norway’s specific and unique requirements.
With 13 helicopters delivered out of 14 and the fourteenth ready to take delivery, we were close to finalizing the main scope of the initial contract.
While the Norwegian Ministry of Defense has said it will begin the process of identifying an alternative maritime helicopter, which reports say will likely include Sikorsky MH-60 Seahawk helicopters.
Incidentally, the Seahawk was also involved in an accident this week alone.
Australia had also grounded its NH90s
Norway is not the only country that has struggled with the NH90s. In December, Australia also announced it was grounding its fleet of MRH90 battlefield utility helicopters, a variant of the NH90 also known locally as Taipan, citing similar maintenance and availability difficulties.
“The performance of the MRH90 Taipan has been a constant and well-documented concern for [the Australian Ministry of Defense]and there has been a major effort at great expense to try to address these issues,” Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton said. said in December.
The MRH90 Taipan entered Australian service in 2008, and the fleet of 46 Taipans will now be retired a decade ahead of schedule to be replaced by 40 American-built UH-60 Black Hawks.
Airbus fears American companies
Airbus has reportedly expressed concern that US military rotorcraft manufacturers will take over the market once the US military’s new family of advanced Future Vertical Lift rotorcraft are introduced in the 2030s.
European members of NATO will also seek Next Generation Rotorcraft (NGRC) to replace approximately 1,000 medium-lift helicopters slated for retirement by 2040. These countries have a choice of joining the U.S. Future Long-Range Assault program Aircraft (FLRAA) or build their own competing design as they did with the NH90.
That said, it doesn’t bode well for NHI that two of its customers have abandoned their NH90 fleets earlier than expected, citing similar difficulties.
If the European company’s customer base continues to slump, it could pave the way for European militaries to look to the United States when it comes time to modernize their rotorcraft fleets.