After years of delays and maintenance and availability issues, Norway has decided to cancel the NH90 maritime helicopter contract.
This means that the country will return all of the helicopters delivered so far to NATO Helicopter Industries (NHI), in addition to announcing it would seek full restitution of all funds invested into the program.
Due to the contract termination, Norwegian flight operations with the NH90 will be discontinued, and any planned future missions will be cancelled, it was further said.
Norway placed a contract for 14 helicopters, eight for operations on coast guard ships and six for the Royal Norwegian Navy’s Fridtjof Nansen-class frigates, in 2001.
The final airframe was initially to be delivered by 2008, but that timeframe slipped well over a decade behind schedule.
As of today, only eight have been delivered in a fully operational configuration, and the rest weren’t even going to be delivered this year.
“We have made repeated attempts at resolving the problems related to the NH90 in cooperation with NHI, but more than 20 years after the contract was signed, we still don’t have helicopters capable of performing the missions for which they were bought, and without NHI being able to present us with any realistic solutions,” said Gro Jære, director general of the Norwegian Defence Materiel Agency.
The agency said it would now begin preparations to return the helicopters along with any spares and equipment received. It will also request a refund from NHI, which will include the approximately NOK five billion it has paid under the contract, in addition to interest and other expenses.
“Regrettably we have reached the conclusion that no matter how many hours our technicians work, and how many parts we order, it will never make the NH90 capable of to meeting the requirements of the Norwegian Armed Forces. Based on a joint recommendation by the Armed Forces and associated departments and agencies, the Norwegian Government has therefore decided to end the introduction of the NH90 and has authorized the Norwegian Defence Material Agency to terminate the contract”, said Norwegian Minister of Defence, Mr. Bjørn Arild Gram.
The agency also revealed that the NH90 fleet was currently required to provide 3.900 flight hours annually but in recent years it has averaged only about 700 hours.
The Norwegian defense ministry ordered a comprehensive review of Norway’s maritime helicopter capabilities in February 2022. The review concluded that even with significant additional financial investments, it would not be possible to bring the performance and availability of the NH90 to a level that would meet Norwegian requirements.
“This is the right decision for the NH90 and for our maritime helicopter capability, and in line with our recommendation,” said Norwegian Chief of Defence, General Eirik Kristoffersen.
“I am impressed by the efforts made by our organization and everyone who have worked so hard to make the NH90 deliver. This has not been a question of lack of effort, creativity, and skill, but quite simply that we have received a helicopter that has not been able to deliver. Also, even though we are now moving on from the NH90, we still need the support of those who have been working on the helicopter. My priority now is therefore to take care of everyone who has worked on the NH90,” said General Kristoffersen.
Norway beginning search for new maritime helicopter
The Norwegian Ministry of Defence said it would soon begin the process of identifying an alternative maritime helicopter.
“Norway continues to have a requirement for maritime helicopters, and it is therefore essential that we quickly begin preparations to fill the capability gap left by the NH90. We will consider several alternative approaches to meeting our operational requirements, but we must be prepared for the fact that there will be no easy solutions,” said defense minister Bjørn Arild Gram.
“I hope that many of them will also be able to join us as we work to identify the best way of addressing our continuing maritime helicopter requirements,” he added.