Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Sweden Joins Australia & Norway To ‘Chop’ European NH-90 Choppers; US Black Hawks Emerge Top Choice

Trouble continues to mount for the European consortium NHIndustries that manufactures the NH90 military chopper. After Australia and Norway dumped the rotorcraft after years of frustration with its operation and maintenance, Sweden has become the latest customer to axe the chopper.

Sweden has announced plans to replace its NHIndustries (NHI) NH90 marine helicopters, Janes publication reported. At the same time, the Nordic country vying to get a NATO membership has also decided to expand its land-role UH-60M Black Hawk fleet.

General Micael Bydén, the Swedish Armed Forces Supreme Commander, made the declaration on November 1 as part of a slew of anticipated capacity improvements submitted to the Swedish government for review. The decision comes just months after Swedish neighbor Norway dumped its fleet of NH90 choppers.

“Air defense is proposed to be strengthened, among other things, through the acquisition of a new sea-operational helicopter and an additional ground-operational helicopter 16,” Gen Bydén said, referring to the UH-60 M’s national designation of HKP 16. Sweden was the first European country to procure the UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter in 2011.

Norwegian NH90 Helicopter (NHI)

Commander of the Swedish Air Force, Major General Carl-Johan Edstrom, said at a Swedish Air Force event on July 17 that the NH90 was not delivering what it should deliver, specifying that the service was conducting a comprehensive evaluation of its rotary requirements.

At the time, the Commander also stated that Sweden was discussing with other operators what it would do with its NH90 fleet. He also said that the fleet of UH-60M was “working really well.”

Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk - Wikipedia
Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk – Wikipedia

The NH90 fleet in Sweden was supposed to be completely operational in 2008, but owing to ongoing delays, that has still not been achieved.

The Swedish Air Force (SwAF) currently has 18 NH90 helicopters in service, which were purchased in a variety of interim HKP 14A-E configurations with the ultimate goal of fielding nine HKP 14E troop transport/assault/search-and-rescue (SAR) and HKP 14F anti-submarine warfare (ASW)/anti-surface warfare (ASuW)/SAR standard aircraft.

The delays in which the NH90 remains marred have frustrated the Swedish Air Force when there’s a war being fought in its backyard. It has become the second country after Norway in the region to do away with the chopper and the third after Australia.

NH-90’s Laggard Performance

Norway terminated the agreement to purchase 14 NH90 medium-lift helicopters from NATO Helicopter Industries (NHI), a consortium of European aviation and defense firms led by Airbus, claiming 20 years of problems with delays, errors, and time-consuming maintenance.

The Norwegian government not only terminated the contract but also requested the consortium to refund $500 million, including interest, that it had paid to the NHI for the fleet of 13 helicopters and other ancillary costs.

While NHI first refuted the claims and got embroiled in a tussle with the Norwegian country, it did a complete turnaround to assuage concerns and save the program.

A naval-configured NH90 on the deck of a Norwegian navy ship. (NHI)

The NHI, along with NATO Helicopter Design and Development, Production, and Logistics Management Agency (NAHEMA), unexpectedly announced a new contract on June 13 to improve the performance of the NH90 helicopter at the Eurosatory defense exhibition in Paris, France.

At the time, it was announced that NHI would assume full responsibility for maintaining a constant flow of spare parts to France and Germany via a flight-hour-based service under the terms of the contract.

As earlier noted by EurAsian Times, the agreement is slated to offer support for five years, with two more five-year options available for fifteen years. Up to 100 NH90s can be served in France, and up to 131 NH90s can be served in Germany.

However, Sweden was not impressed and decided to go with the Black Hawk instead, as was done by Australia – the first country to dump the NH-90s.

In December 2021, the then Defense Minister of Australia, Peter Dutton, said that the government was in talks to purchase up to 40 Sikorsky Black Hawk helicopters to replace the Army’s ailing fleet of NHIndustries MRH 90 Taipan helicopters.

In August 2022, the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) approved the sale of 40 UH-60M Black Hawk battlefield mobility helicopters to Australia for $2.79 billion.

Besides Australia, even Norway is expected to go for Sikorsky Sea Hawk helicopters. There are speculations that the Norwegian Defense Ministry will probably settle for the Sikorsky MH-60 Sea Hawk helicopters as NH90 replacements. However, there has been no official confirmation in that regard.

Meanwhile, the manufacturer of UH-60M, Sikorsky, has been eyeing to expand its production and increase sales through the FMS route.

It started in May 2022 and is expected to have the 5,000th UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter on its production line by the fourth quarter of 2022. Clearly, NH90’s loss is Black Hawk’s gain.

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