PARIS – The NATO Helicopter Management Agency, acting on behalf of France, has signed a production contract with NHI Industries for 10 NH90 Tactical Troop Helicopters, upgraded to meet the requirements of the French special forces.

France’s DGA procurement agency had announced at the end of September that it wanted the final batch of 10 NH90s it had already ordered to be transformed into special forces versions, the first five of which will be delivered in 2025 and the last five in 2026. That will bring the total number of these aircraft in the French army to 74.

The NATO agency acts not only on behalf of France but also Belgium, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands who are all partners in the NH90 program.

“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,” according to Airbus Helicopters. The company is one of the partners in the NHI Industries consortium together with Leonardo and Fokker.

Preparatory studies for the new special forces equipment configuration, known as the TFRA Standard 2 configuration, began 18 months ago in cooperation with Belgium and Australia. The configuration will incorporate a new-generation Electro-Optical System (EOS) Euroflir 410 from Safran Electronics & Defense to improve detection of obstacles and threats during tactical flight and in all night-time conditions. Pilots, commandos, gunners and load masters will all have access to displays and controls.

The rear of the aircraft will be upgraded to allow special patrol insertion and extraction with a new, quick-removable leaf doors system and fast-rope beam. Side-mounted machine guns provide additional protection. In addition, various improvements will be made to the hold so that the back door can be used during flight and to enable personnel in the hold to see the optronic observation system video.

As a complement to the existing equipment such as the M3M machine guns and external fuel tanks, other improvements serving the special forces and French army pilots include new-generation digital 3D mapping, folding boarding steps and additional ceiling-mounted rope anchor points.

Electrical and mechanical provisions will be installed for future integration of the upgraded version of the TopOwl helmet made by Thales which will provide digital displays of the Eurofl’Eye and Euroflir piloting and mission sensors, augmented reality and tactical 3D symbols. In addition a wide field of view version of Safran’s Eurofl’Eye optronic system will later be integrated to support pilots flying in difficult conditions such as very dark nights or very sandy environments.

A total of 566 NH90s (both TTH or the naval Nato Frigate Helicopter versions) have been bought by the original five European partners, plus Australia, Finland, Greece, Norway, New Zealand, Oman, Qatar, Spain and Sweden. Some of these countries have expressed interest in the new configuration for their own NH90s.

Christina Mackenzie was the France correspondent for Defense News.

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