NH90 variants: a surprise total

We know how to have fun here on The DEW Line, so to prove it, I spent yesterday at a military airworthiness conference in London, with lots of safety-minded types.

Between the lengthy and detailed discussions about the certification hurdles faced by companies and operators while bringing equipment like the A400M and A330 Voyager into service – and keeping it in the air as safely as can realistically be achieved thereafter – a speaker from NH Industries (NHI) added some great context drawn from the NH90 programme.

So, how many NH90 variants are there out there? Of course, we all know that the answer is two: the TTH (tactical transport helicopter) and the NFH (clunkily-named NATO frigate helicopter). Wrong, said our presenter. In fact, 20 individual variants exist, with this sprawling further down to comprise some 38 sub-variants. Not bad going, when you consider that NHI has so far delivered 161 of the twin-engined type to 12 operator nations.

But why does this matter? There’s limited cross-over between approval processes between the variants, meaning lots of flight-testing and certification items have to be ticked off multiple times. And with around 400 service bulletins issued for the type to date, each affecting perhaps several sub-variants, it goes some way to explaining why everything seems to take quite a long time to achieve.

New Zealand NH90

Producing an aircraft like the NH90 for users spread throughout Europe and as far away as Oman, Australia and New Zealand (Eurocopter-sourced image, above) from six final assembly lines was never going to be straightforward, but NHI seems to have spawned something of a fleet management nightmare. EADS chief executive Tom Enders earlier this month called for improvements in military certification processes to remove duplication between nations and at suppliers, and cut the time needed to bring equipment like the A400M into frontline use. Looking at the NH90 as an example, I see what he means.


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10 Responses to NH90 variants: a surprise total

  1. Ian 17 October, 2013 at 10:21 pm #

    “And that, Jimmy, is why NH Industries will make a loss on every single NH90 produced…”


  2. para 19 October, 2013 at 4:09 am #

    Cost must be a nightmare on this issue. All this stuff needs certification and documentation…what a mess. Probably explains a fair bit of the delays on the type, too. I mean, Germany was with the program from the start, yet has barely seen the helo joining the force operationally, same as with the Tiger AH.

    • Craig Hoyle 19 October, 2013 at 10:49 am #

      And yet, they’ve managed to sell hundreds of the things!

      • Ian 19 October, 2013 at 8:22 pm #

        Yes, but when was the last order from a new customer (as opposed to a confirmed order from an existing customer)? 2006 (New Zealand)? And how many orders have been canceled or reduced over the same period?

        Nice aircraft, years ahead of its time (and it looks great with the dual 20mm pods installed), but it’s suffered from both weak program management and EC-AW infighting.

      • para 25 October, 2013 at 12:07 am #

        Lets be fair and state, that just as with Typhoon the bulk of these orders was with the original consortium of developing nations. The way you put it, it gives the very flawed impression, that hundreds of export-orders have lined up, which is factually wrong (again, same as with the EF, with its mixed foreign buyer-history).

        Those hundreds of orders are also based on cold war-requirements for replacing existing airframes, yet the downsizing of European defence spending in terms of procurement has taken a hefty bite out of every major program.

        Last but not least, its not like true export orders of the type have exactly been trouble-free, see the Australians, where the NH-90 has been a project of concern on their watchlist for a fair while.

        • Craig Hoyle 25 October, 2013 at 10:05 am #

          Your charge that I am “factually wrong” doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, para. NHI is a consortium of Dutch, French, German and Italian industry, so that’s four of the buyers for the NH90, and a large bulk of the total order book.

          But how is it giving a “very flawed impression” to suggest that it has also been a successful export product, when it has so far been sold to Australia, Belgium, Finland, Greece, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Spain (Eurocopter’s national interest there accepted) and Sweden?

          And Typhoon’s “mixed foreign buyer-history”? Yes, the export deals so far – to Austria, Saudi Arabia and most recently Oman, have been with close allies of Germany and the UK, but that’s more international backing than we’ve seen finalised so far for the Rafale and Super Hornet, for example.

          • para 27 October, 2013 at 9:57 pm #

            I did not want to agitate you, but my point stands. NH Industries has not “sold hundreds of it” in the sense you were suggesting. Roughly 350 airframes are on order, with the vast majority going to the original developers. The Scandinavians are also quasi-developers in the shape of their “Nordic NFH”-configuration. All of these orders were made before any of the issues this whole post is about popped into existence, so your suggestion, that “yet (despite this issue) they managed to sell it” is certainly misleading. True export orders in the sense of a finished product to a customer who expects just that, are tiny and with strict limits on ambitions and expectations in contrast to the orders that carry the program, and for a good reason, ie making it feasible to fulfill them. And see the Australian order for what happens, when those ambitions and expectations should happen to push the boundary. EC missed out on the Australian naval contract, even though the NFH would have made a lot more sense in terms of force structure. You can see what the consequences are once more facts are on the table right there.

            I compared it to EF for matters of fact centering around a similar pattern in orders and the logic behind it. Your remark on Rafale and SH reinforces that point. The French have not enough clout/political pull despite an overall decent product, even with operators of their hardware The US have a maintenance-heavy carrier fighter on steroids, which they try to sell as multi-purpose and there even American influence has its limits. They evidently fare much better with F-16 and -15.

  3. flyboy 22 October, 2013 at 8:55 pm #

    doesnt seem to handle lightning strikes too well based on media reports in one operator nation…..

    • Craig Hoyle 23 October, 2013 at 9:13 am #

      Yes, a bit of bad luck for the Kiwis there. Wonder what a severe strike like that would have done to a UH-1, by comparison?

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