Norway has announced the termination of its contract with NH Industries and plans to return the 13 NH90 helicopters it has so far received in return for a full refund of the NOK5 billion ($500 million) invested in their acquisition. The Ministry of Defense announced the axing of the contract [during a June 10 press conference and] on its website on June 10, noting that the Norwegian Defense Material Agency (NDMA or Forsvarsmateriell) had informed NH Industries of the decision, including the return of the helicopters and all attendant spare parts.
Frustration with the program steadily mounted as the delivery schedule for the 14 helicopters continued to slip further and further from the original completion target of 2008. The final Norwegian unit was then to be delivered this year, but instead got pushed out to 2024.
On top of the overshot delivery timeframe, only eight of the units delivered arrived in final configuration. The platforms themselves proved unreliable, with the failure rate per flight hour for the eight units in final configuration.
Maintenance issues also presented a major challenge, with Norway often only having one unit – sometimes none – available for service. Some mission-specific components, such as the crucial anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capability, have become obsolete in the 20 years since Norway placed its order in 2001. According to the head of the NDMA, Gro Jaere, NH Industries has been unable to find a suitable replacement for the ASW suite.
NH Industries has rebutted Norway’s claims, stating that the contract termination is “legally groundless,” that “NH Industries was not offered the possibility to discuss the latest proposal made to improve the availability of the NH90 in Norway and to address the specific Norwegian requirements”, and that Norway’s 14th and final NH90 helicopter is now “ready for acceptance.”
But Norway’s longstanding dissatisfaction with the program has boiled over and the Ministry of Defense is eager to turn the page on a project initially begun in 1998 along with Nordic partners Denmark, Finland and Sweden under the Nordic Standard Helicopter Program (NSHP). That project aimed at acquiring single helicopter platform to meet a variety of roles for each country’s military. In the end only Denmark opted against the NH90.
Norway had hoped for initial delivery in 2005, but that timeline slipped and slipped, and Norwegian frustration with the program began to grow. It was not until November 30, 2011 that the first Norwegian NH90 was handed over at AgustaWestland’s (now Leonardo) Vergiate facility in Italy. Meanwhile, delivery of the first two final configuration models took until 2018 to arrive.
By February 2022, the MoD had tasked the Armed Forces, NDMA and the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment to undertake a comprehensive review of the country’s maritime helicopter capabilities. The review noted that even with substantial follow-on financial investment in the NH90 fleet it would not raise their performance and availability rates to an acceptable standard to meet Norwegian requirements.
With operational use of the NH90 terminated, the MoD must now begin the process of finding a new maritime helicopter capability. A logical off-the-shelf solution would be the MH-60 Seahawk from Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky.