HELSINKI — Norway is becoming so frustrated over the long delays in receiving 14 NH90 helicopters it ordered in 2001 that officials are considering following Sweden’s example and buying tactical and transport helicopters that can be quickly delivered as a gap filler.
In a joint $1.2 billion acquisition, Finland, Sweden and Norway contracted to acquire 52 multirole NH90s in 2001 from NHIndustries as part of the Nordic Standard Helicopter Program agreed among the three countries.
The Norwegian Armed Forces has so far acquired just one NH90 helicopter, delivered in November. The NATO Frigate-type NH90s are earmarked to replace the Norwegian Coast Guard’s Lynx helicopters and to provide a helicopter anti-submarine warfare capability to the new Fridtjof Nansen-class frigates.
However, Norway’s growing impatience is centered on an NH90 development program that has been plagued by slow deliveries, as well as slower certification and acceptance.
The Swedish government responded to its NH90 delivery delays by ordering 15 Black Hawk helicopters in April 2011. The decision was prompted by a significant shortage of tactical, transport and medevac helicopters to support national defense tasks and Sweden’s ground troop operations in Afghanistan.
Sweden’s military plans to have the entire complement of 15 Black Hawks, which forms part of a separate, $700 million long-term helicopter-availability project, operational by 2017.
For its part, Sweden had ordered 20 NH90 helicopters (designated HKP14), 13 with a high cabin configuration suited to tactical troop transport, combat search and rescue, and medevac operations. The full fleet of NH90s is not expected to be operational until 2020.
Just a handful of NH90s have so far been delivered to Norway, Finland and Sweden. The continuing delays, despite repeated assurances of delivery by the supplier, have tested Norway’s patience, said Norwegian Defense Minister Espen Barth Eide.
“If they [NHIndustries] cannot come up with a credible delivery plan, we need to consider looking at other options,” Eide said. “The contractor has not delivered according to schedule. What is holding us back now is not the contract, but that we want this helicopter, which is an excellent machine. But we must use taxpayer’s money in a sensible manner. We have made it very clear that we expect action, not promises.”
Norway’s expanding need for tactical and transport helicopters, and the uncertainty over the delivery dates for all of the 14 NH90s, means the MoD may need to look at other options, including the acquisition of off-the-shelf models, Eide said.
NHIndustries, which concedes the reasons for Norway’s growing impatience, said it is working with the MoD on new measures to support a more credible schedule designed to accelerate delivery.
“We are confident the new measures will have a real positive impact to resolve the delays and put deliveries back on a firmer track,” said Aage Jørgensen, NHIndustries’s chief adviser in Norway. “We have agreed with Norway to deliver fully operational helicopters from 2014, and this is the target we are working toward.”
Established in 1992, NHIndustries is owned by Eurocopter, AgustaWestland and the Dutch group Stork Fokker Aerospace.