In 2001, the Swedish Armed Forces placed a bulk order for a French-made helicopter at a cost of $US 935 million, against the advice of experts from the Swedish Defence Materiel Administration.
Swedish Radio News has now learnt that the reason for this was that the then defence minister, Björn von Sydow, ignored the expert advice given and pushed ahead regardless with his decision to pursue a common Nordic helicopter procurement policy. The decision back in 2001 to buy 18 French NH90 helicopters has so far cost the Swedish tax payer an extra $US 732 million and resulted in a helicopter system that is now eleven years delayed.
The decision back in 2001 to buy 18 French NH90 helicopters has so far cost the Swedish tax payer an extra $US 732 million and resulted in a helicopter system that is now eleven years delayed.
“There was great political pressure that we should have a common Nordic helicopter. It was in reality only the NH90 helicopter that could satisfy all the Nordic nations’ requirements,” says Commander Claes Lundin, who negotiated on the behalf of the Swedish Armed Forces.
The Swedish Defence Materiel Administration, or FMV, is an independent, civil authority with the task to provide the Swedish Armed Forces with materiel, systems and methods. Swedish Radio News has obtained access to documents showing how the FMV advised against buying the French NH90 helicopter and instead recommended the American helicopter, Sikorsky S-92, judging it to be more cost-effective, with a lower project risk and the best delivery plan.
The FMV also warned of the dangers of ordering the French NH90 helicopter, highlighting risks of delayed deliveries, which in turn would mean having to fill the gap with other helicopter purchases.
Previously unseen documents now reveal, however, that the then defence minister, Björn von Sydow, had already made up his mind that Sweden should buy the NH90, as this was the model that Norway and Finland had decided upon. Von Sydow was resolved to have a common Nordic helicopter and, given all the requirements, the NH90 then became the only possibility.
FMV’s expert recommendations went unheeded and the Swedish Armed Forces implemented the wish of the defence minister. Orders were accordingly made for 18 NH90 helicopters in 2001 at a cost of $US 935 million, all of which should have been delivered by 2009. As of August 2011, only two have been delivered.
To fill the gap left by the undelivered helicopters, Sweden bought 15 Black Hawks last year as a temporary solution, costing the tax payer a further $US 732 million.
In an interview with Swedish Radio News, the former defence minister Björn von Sydow says that he can’t remember if he read the FMV’s recommendation or not before making the decision back in 2001.
“I can’t answer that at this point,” he says. “I haven’t had the opportunity to look over the document in question and do not have any recollection of it.”
So the fears of FMV proved to be well-founded: Von Sydows determination to push through a common Nordic helicopter has led to severe delays and cost hundreds of millions extra.
Lieutenant Colonel Sölve Malm, tasked with looking into the over-budgeted helicopter affair, is unimpressed. “This is not the way it should be. We handle state funds, from the taxpayer, and they should be used more responsibly by those in authority,” says Sölve Malm.
Following Swedish Radio News’s report, the Liberal Party’s defence spokesperson, Allan Widman, has said that the remaining helicopters awaiting delivery should be cancelled.
“My personal view is that we should cancel the helicopters. It’s still uncertain whether they will be able to be used for their intended purposes,” Widman says.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Canada, which unlike Sweden did buy the Sikorsky S-92 (which it calls the CH-148 Cyclone), has experienced several years of delays on the program , as well as unmet specifications and cost overruns, so Sweden would probably not have been better off had it followed FMV’s alleged recommendation.)