Ministry of the Armed Forces Launches Development of "Special Forces" Version of NH 90 Helicopter
(Source: French Armed Forces Ministry; issued Oct. 9, 2020)
(Unofficial translation by Defense-Aerospace.com)
The Special Forces variant of the NH90 tactical transport helicopter principally focuses on improving pilot visibility, a direct video feed into the rear cabin and long-range fuel tanks, but lacks other major capabilities such as in-flight refueling. (Airbus infographic)

The General Directorate of Armaments (DGA) has ordered the conversion of ten NH90 helicopters into "special forces" versions (NH 90 FS) on September 29, 2020 from NHI Industries, with major equipment suppliers Thales and Safran.

The "special forces" version of the NH90 aims to provide French special forces with new intervention capabilities suited to their missions in all types of theaters. This technological development is a concrete illustration of the modernization of equipment provided for by the Military Programming Law (LPM) 2019-2025.

The 2019-2025 LPM provides for the delivery of ten NH 90 FS, including five in 2025 and the following five in 2026.

NH90 TTH

Developed through a European cooperation program bringing together Germany, Belgium, France, Italy and the Netherlands, the NH90 helicopter is available in two versions: the TTH (Tactical Transport Helicopter) for land forces, and the NFH (NATO Frigate Helicopter) for maritime rescue and anti-ship and anti-submarine warfare missions.

It has since been chosen by nine other countries (Australia, Spain, Finland, Greece, Norway, New Zealand, Oman, Qatar and Sweden). A total of 566 NH90 helicopters have been ordered to date.

Eighteen months after the launch of the preparatory studies, carried out in part in cooperation with Belgium and Australia, the NAHEMA (NATO HElicopter Management Agency), acting on behalf of DGA, has just awarded the contract for the development of the "special forces” version of the NH90. An amendment to the production contract for the 74 TTHs ordered for the benefit of the Army was also signed to cover the modification of the last ten aircraft to the "special forces" standard.

A twin-engine helicopter in the 11-ton class, the NH90 is the first military helicopter with fly-by-wire electric flight controls, which means it is one of the most advanced in the world. Intended for the 4th Special Forces Helicopter Regiment (4th RHFS), the NH90 FS will offer penetration and operating capabilities in very degraded visibility conditions, in particular in theaters of operation deemed difficult such as the Sahelo-Saharan strip.

The main improvements to the NH90 FS relate to:

-- the addition of a new optronic observation system (the new-generation Euroflir 410 from Safran Electronics & Defense) to enable improved detection of obstacles and threats, in tactical flight and in all night conditions;

-- the possibility of using the rear ramp of the TTH for fast roping operations with self-protection weapons firing through the cabin side doors;

-- various improvements to the rear cabin of the NH90 to allow, among other things, the use of the rear exit ramp in flight, and the display of video feed from the optronic observation system on screens in the rear cabin.

In addition, electrical and mechanical provisions have been taken to allow:

-- the upgrading of the TopOwl helmet from Thales, i.e. switching from analog to digital display so as to offer new capabilities such as high-resolution video display of piloting and mission sensors (Eurofl'eye & Euroflir), the development and display of augmented reality (synthetic terrain and obstacles) and the display of “tactical” 3D symbols. This equipment will be common with the next Standard 3 of the Tiger attack helicopter;

-- a Eurofl'Eye “wide field optronics system” developed by Safran Electronics & Defense to improve piloting conditions in degraded environments (such as landing at night or in a sandy environment) by offering independent fields of vision to the pilot and the co-pilot.

Developments to the NH90 FS, which are of interest to other countries already equipped with this helicopter, are not intended for the exclusive use of Special Forces. Indeed, most of these new capabilities will also be useful to the Army Light Aviation (ALAT) to increase the operational capabilities of the TTH.

The NH90 program

The program is carried out under the aegis of the NATO organization NAHEMO (NATO HElicopter Management Organization) which relies on an agency, NAHEMA, whose mission is to coordinate and execute requests from national contracting authorities. For France, the program is led by the DGA.

Project management is provided by the NH Industries consortium, made up of Airbus Helicopters, Leonardo Helicopters and Fokker Aerostructures.

The NH90s intended for the French forces will be manufactured at the Marignane site (Bouches du Rhône) of Airbus Helicopters France.

Between 2000 and 2015, France ordered a total of 74 NH 90-TTH and 27 NH90-NFH. To date, 24 NFH have been delivered for the French Navy, and 45 TTH for the Army.

The NFH is gradually replacing the Lynx and the Super Frelon (already withdrawn from active service) of the French Navy. Its main missions are the protection of the naval force, maritime counterterrorism, transport from land or from buildings, public service, safeguard and rescue;

The TTH is gradually replacing the Army's Puma helicopters. Its main missions are the tactical transport of troops (up to 20 commandos) and equipment (up to 2.5 tons). Secondary missions are fire support, parachuting and casualty evacuation.

In 2025, the NH90-TTHs will constitute the Army's main helicopter fleet.

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France Signs Contract for Upgraded NH90 TTH for Special Forces
(Source: Airbus; issued Oct. 12, 2020)
MARIGNANE, France --- NHIndustries and its Partner Companies (Airbus Helicopters, Leonardo and Fokker), have signed with the NATO Helicopter Management Agency (NAHEMA) a firm contract for the development of an upgraded version of the NH90 Tactical Troop Helicopter (TTH) for the French Special Forces (TFRA Standard 2). Under the terms of the production contract, the final batch of 10 NH90s already ordered by the French Ministry of Armed Forces, through the Armament General Directorate (DGA), will be delivered directly to this new standard at the beginning of 2025.

The new features provide a substantial increase in the helicopter’s mission capability and clearly position the NH90 as one of the world’s most advanced tactical troop carriers, particularly in challenging conditions such as sand, snow or fog.

The new TFRA Standard 2 configuration will incorporate a new-generation Electro-Optical System (EOS) EuroFLIR™ from Safran with displays and controls for both the pilots, commandos, gunners and load masters. The sensors will provide outputs to undertake updated mission planning on connected screens or tablets right up to the moment of egress.

In addition to the enhanced cockpit, the cabin will be upgraded with a new quick removable leaf doors system and fast-rope beam. This will provide extra capabilities through the rear of the aircraft with protective fire from the side-mounted machine guns.

As a complement to the existing equipment such as the M3M machine guns and external fuel tanks, other improvements serving the Special Forces and the French Army Aviation include new generation digital 3D map, folding boarding steps and additional ceiling-mounted rope anchor points.

In a second step it is foreseen that a Distributed Aperture System (DAS) composed of fixed infrared cameras displaying 3D vision in a new generation Helmet Mounted Sight Digital Display will also be incorporated, providing an unprecedented level of pilot support in low visibility, greatly enhancing the helicopter’s capability in degraded environmental conditions.

Nathalie Tarnaud-Laude, Head of NH90 programme at Airbus Helicopters and President of NHIndustries said: “This opportunity brings transformative digital technologies to the NH90 which will make it even more capable in precisely the kind of challenging conditions that can be faced today by Special Forces. We look forward to seeing it in service with the French Army and to offering it to other NH90 customers.”

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