In its financial report for the first nine months of 2022, the Italian aerospace manufacturer Leonardo said that the Norwegian Defence Materiel Agency’s decision to terminate its NH90 helicopter contract and to claim a refund is “legally groundless.”
The NH90 is a twin-engine military transport helicopter manufactured by NHIndustries (NHI) and resulted from a partnership between France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands. Leonardo Helicopters Division is one of the main shareholders of NHI, along with Airbus Helicopters and Fokker Technologies.
On June 10, 2022, the NDMA canceled its contract with NHI for 14 NH90 helicopters over delivery delays and availability problems and said it would seek reimbursement of 5 billion Norwegian kroner (around €500 million).
Following the announcement, the helicopter consortium said it was “extremely disappointed” by the decision and stated it had no legal ground.
Leonardo reiterated the claim in its financial report.
“NHI considers this request for termination for default legally groundless and reasonably challengeable in any appropriate forum due to lack of factual and legal basis, misinterpretation of the contract and the Norwegian law as well as breach of confidentiality obligations,” the manufacturer said.
Norway is not the only nation reporting trouble with the helicopter.
In December 2021, Australia announced it planned to procure around 40 UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters to replace the Army’s fleet of 41 NH Industries NH90, known as the MRH90 Taipan, over poor availability rates and a high maintenance cost. Similarly, the Australian Navy also requested to phase out its six navalized MRH90s in favor of 12 Sikorsky MH-60R ‘Sea Hawk’ helicopters.
After Australia and Norway, is Sweden next?
Sweden might follow in the steps of its western neighbor. On November 1, 2022, Supreme Commander of the Swedish Armed Forces Micael Bydén announced as part of a new defense strategy the intention to progressively withdraw the five NH-90 Hkp14E (transport and search and rescue missions) and 13 NH-90 Hkp14F (anti-submarine warfare) helicopters from 2024 to 2030.
The Hkp14Es will be replaced with additional UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters. Sweden already acquired 15 Black hawks in 2011 as a stop-gap solution for medevac missions in Afghanistan. Back then, the Swedish Armed Forces had retired its Super Pumas but was yet to receive the NH90s.
The replacement of the Hkp14Fs will be subject to a tender.
“The aim is to meet operational requirements earlier and increase availability within the helicopter systems to be able to support the needs of the army, special forces, and navy,” the plan details.
Reacting to the conclusion and recommendations outlined in Sweden’s strategy plan, NHI pointed at the unique requirements of the Swedish Armed Forces as the reason behind the reduced availability of the fleet, with for example the inclusion of a raised cabin.
“The Swedish NH90s have been specifically customized to the Swedish armed forces’ needs, providing the country with unique and outstanding mission capabilities,” an Airbus spokesperson said in a statement quoted by Breaking Defense. “The size of the available fleet was temporarily reduced over the last years due to the retrofit and upgrade programme, agreed with the Swedish armed forces, that has been ongoing since 2017 and that is planned to be completed by the end of 2023.”
The presented strategy will be subject to approval by the Swedish government and parliament.