Five major European powers have signed an agreement to collaborate on the development of a new utility helicopter for use by NATO forces, the organization informed on Thursday.
A new agreement was signed by France, Germany, Italy, Greece, and the United Kingdom called for the countries to build NATO’s next-generation helicopter, dubbed ‘Next-Generation Rotorcraft Capabilities’.
While the exact details of the project are not known, it is one of the alliance’s High Visibility Projects with an aim to develop a new multirole helicopter to replace the current types in service- which would retire by 2035.
“A significant number of medium multi-role helicopter capabilities currently operated by Allies will reach the end of their life cycle in the 2035 – 2040 period and beyond, with the subsequent need for replacements,” the NATO press release stated.
The helicopters would have ‘entirely new capabilities’, and the diplomats from each country signed the Expression of Intent via a conference, which was held virtually due to the pandemic guidelines.
“By investing our resources and channeling our development initiatives through a multinational framework, we are making sure Allies are equipped with the best available capabilities, which helps to maintain NATO’s technological edge”, NATO Deputy Secretary-General Mircea Geoană said, according to the release.
Other details about the program have not yet been released. In a mail to Defense News, a NATO official stated that the letters of intent are non-binding documents, and the initial cooperation effort is in principle open to other NATO allies and partners, subject to the approval of the existing participants.
The organization envisions that the defense ministers from participating countries would sign a legally binding Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the initial concept phase in 2022.
In the meantime, the allies will develop a statement of requirements to inform that concept phase and hash out a cooperation plan to define, develop and field the next-generation helicopter.
The NATO official noted that it will be critical to “get the intellectual foundation for NGRC right,” and that 2021 discussions to establish an initial common statement of requirements will not require “substantial” capital expenditures.
Next year’s efforts will provide “a robust starting point for the participants to discuss and design the subsequent concept phase and agree on the associated funding requirements for the following years,” the official said, reported Defense News.
Currently, the mainstay of the participating countries is the NHIndustries NH-90 helicopter operated by France, Germany, Italy, and Greece, while the UK relies on Merlin and Wildcat utility helicopters.