The NH 90 is a twin engine, tactical transport and multi-role naval helicopter in the 8-9 ton class. The NH 90 design and development contract was awarded by NAHEMA, the NATO agency representing the 4 participating governments of France, Italy, Germany and The Netherlands to NHIndustries the joint venture shared by Agusta, Eurocopter and Fokker.
The NH90 helicopter was developed in two variants : the Tactical Transport Helicopter (TTH) and the NATO Frigate Helicopter (NFH) to meet the requirements expressed by European Armed Forces. The NH90, derived both in the transport and naval version from a common basic model, has been conceived as a brand new and innovative weapon system, with technical and technological solutions in line with the future expectations of the operators. As for technologies and performance, equal consideration has been given to Reliability, Availability, Maintainability, Testability and Supportability.
The NH90 is a twin engine, 10 ton class helicopter. It fullfils on the stringent requirements jointly expressed by the Armed Forces of France, Italy, Germany, and The Netherlands, to face up to the military scenario of the next decades. In these countries the NH90 will replace the UH-1 series, the Puma family, Lynxes, and Sea Kings. The Design & Development Contract was signed on 1 September 1992. This was followed by the first flight of the first prototype three years later on 18 December 1995. The contract for the Production Investment and the Production (PI/P) of a 1st batch of helicopters was signed on 30 June 2000 in Paris by Helmuth Heumann, General Manager of NAHEMA, and Philippe Stuckelberger, General Manager of NHIndustries. The 1st batch of 298 NH90 helicopters is part of the immediate production commitment of 366 helicopters, included in the total requirement of 595 NH90s. This was based on the go-ahead and the Parliamentary approval of the 4 Participating Nations and the MoU signature held in Berlin ILA Airshow on 8 June 2000.
The total value of the contract amounts to 6.6 billion Euro: NH90 is the biggest helicopter programme ever launched in Europe, and, in addition, national industries are participating with a self financing for the 25% amount of the Production Investment. The target to maintain the costs within the estimate elaborated before the Design & Development phase has been achieved thanks to the close collaboration between NHIndustries, its industrial partners, NAHEMA, and the End Users by combining: - a continuous design to costs analysis - a permanent control of the technical configuration despite the large variety of required mission to meet.
Italy ordered 60 TTH (Tactical Transport Helicopter) for the Army, 46 NFH (NATO Frigate Helicopter) plus 10 TTH for the Navy; France will receive 27 NFH for their naval forces ; Germany receives 50 TTH for the Army and 30 TTH for the Air Force, of which 23 are foreseen for Combat Search and Rescue missions following a dedicated further contracted development; The Netherlands will receive 20 NFH. The 1st batch in both the TTH and the NFH versions included 54 TTH as option for Germany - 30 for their Army and 24 for their Air Force - and 1 TTH as option for Italian Air Force. Deliveries started in 2003 for the Tactical Transport version. Production shares of the four countries will be 31.25% for France (Eurocopter), 32% for Italy (Agusta), 31.25% for Germany (Eurocopter Deutschland) and 5.5% for The Netherlands (Stork Fokker). NHIndustries is responsible for the programme management, marketing, sales, and after sales support.
Some outstanding innovations in this project include the extended use of composite materials, the high level of system integration and modularity, the aerodynamic design, the advanced mission flight aids, the high level of safety, the maintainability and supportability characteristics. Thanks to its features and system integration, the NH90 is capable of operating successfully in any environment, by day and night under adverse weather conditions.
The D&D contract foresaw two versions sharing a common basis: the tactical transport (TTH) and the naval version (NFH). Two pitfalls related to the NH90 European helicopter : 1. cumbersome industrial decision-making - all decisions are taken unanimously and since the partners' ideas frequently diverge, deadlines are drawn out; 2. since the states wished to adapt the initial concept to their needs, developmental unity has collapsed and the NH 90 now exists in 23 versions. For pooling operations to remain operative, definitions cannot diverge. The use of aircraft by European armies does not justify the existence of different versions.
The NH90 potential growing capability, typical of its new design, guarantees a long and competitive operational life, well inside the 21st century. The close links of the Participating Nations Armed Forces guarantee a continuous updating of the NH90 to the evolution of the military requirements.
The tactical transport (TTH) version is primarily conceived for tactical transport of personnel (14-20 troops) and material (more than 2500 kg of cargo), heliborne operations and SAR. Additional applications include medevac, special operations, electronic warfare, airborne command post, parachuting, VIP transport, flight training. This version is optimised for low signatures (acoustic, radar, infrared). It will be equipped with a night vision system (Forward Looking Infra-Red, Night Vision Goggles, Helmet Mounted Sight & Display). Other features include weather radar, digital map, Obstacle Warning System, cable cutters, armoured pilot seats, defensive weapons suite, passive and active measures against the threat. As an option, the TTH can be equipped, with the rear-loading ramp to accommodate a light transport vehicle. The TTH is designed for high manoeuvrability and survivability in Nap Of the Earth operations near FEBA (Forward Edge of Battlefield Area). Because of its features and system integration the TTH is capable of operating successfully by day and night under adverse weather conditions in any environment.
The naval version (NFH) is primarily conceived for autonomous Anti-Submarine Warfare and Anti Surface Unit Warfare missions. Additional applications include Anti-Air Warfare support, Vertical Replenishment, Search & Rescue and troop transport. The helicopter is designed for day & night / adverse weather / severe ship motion environment operations. The NH90 NFH is a unique integrated naval "weapon system" able to perform ASW and ASUW operations autonomously and/or in conjunction with the parent ship. The NH90 NFH has the capability to carry out the mission with a crew of three: Pilot, Tacco, Senso. This is thanks to the enhanced handling qualities of the helicopter and the reduced workload by maximum integration of Flight Control System, Basic and Mission Avionics. The latter includes advanced Mission Flight Aids and a high performance autopilot. Operationally, the NFH will be used for the detection, classification, identification by type, tracking and attack of submarines or surface targets - including Over The Horizon Targeting - by day and night. It will be equipped with sonobuoys or dipping sonar, tactical radar, Magnetic Anomaly Detector, tactical Forward Looking Infra-Red, Electronic Warfare System, anti-submarine and/or anti-surface weapons. NH90 NFH has a complete set of passive and active protection measures against the threat. NH90 NFH is designed for Day & Night, adverse weather operations in severe ship motion environment. Thanks to its contained weight and dimensions and particularly to the blade and tail automatic folding system it can operate from/to small Frigates.
NHIndustries, as Prime Contractor for the NH90 Programme, is responsible for the overall industrial performance. A defined workshare is allocated to each participating Company.
AGUSTA - Italy - is responsible for the main gear box, hydraulic system, automatic flight control system, plant management system, NFH (naval) mission systems integration, GTV ground test vehicle, PT5 prototype final assembly and flight testing. They are also responsible for the qualification of the second engine installation (T700).
EUROCOPTER - France - develops the forward fuselage, cockpit, power plant, rotors, tail gear box, electrical system, flight control system, core avionic system. They are responsible for the final assembly and flight testing of the PT1, PT2, PT3 prototypes.
EUROCOPTER DEUTSCHLAND - looks after the center and rear fuselage, fuel system, communication system, display and control unit (BUS controller), common mission systems, TTH (tactical transport) mission systems integration, PT4 prototype final assembly and flight testing.
FOKKER - The Netherlands - is responsible for the tail structure doors and sponsons, landing gear, intermediate gear box, windtunnel testing.
When the directors of France and the Netherlands’ armament agencies met at the ILA Berlin AirShow in May 2008, they decided to implement an ambitious new work schedule to qualify the NFH Nato Frigate Helicopter version of the NH90 for both countries. As part of the decision, NHIndustries made firm commitments to respect the Step A qualification dates for a precisely defined version that would allow customer countries to use their helicopters for their most vital missions, such as sea search and rescue (SAR). The final qualification dates were set for September 2009 for the Netherlands and November 2009 for France. Negotiations werequickly held in the summer of 2008 to freeze the definitions on the Step A naval version and its technical baselines, which were set down in an amendment to the initial production contract. The second part of theplan called for the production units to manufacture the helicopters and bring the initial production aircraft as close as possible to the final version. One obvious lesson learned from the Step A process was that the experience gained through this cooperative effort could be built on and used to complete the final qualification work for the TTH version in 2010 and for the Step B qualification of the NFH in 2011. The Dutch, French, Italian, Norwegian and Belgian navies have ordered a total of 111 NH90 NFH naval helicopters. Customers for the NFH were Belgium: 4, France : 27, Italy: 46, Norway: 14, The Netherlands: 20. The first NH90 NFH helicopter was delivered to the Royal Netherlands Navy during an official ceremony held 21 April 2010 at AgustaWestland’s Vergiate plant in Italy. As of November 2012, more than 128 helicopters had been delivered including 19 NH90 NFHs.
AgustaWestland's Venice Tessera plant, covering 24,000 m2, is the new Italian final assembly line for the 160 NH90s ordered so far by Italy (Army and Navy, 60 and 56 helicopters respectively), the Netherlands (20), Norway (14) and Portugal (10). The new plant delivered its first aircraft in June 2011. The AgustaWestland, final Assembly Line, located at Venice Tessera in Italy, successfully completed its first year of operations and celebrated the joint delivery of an NH90 TTH to the Italian Army and an NH90 NFH to the Italian Navy on 16 December 2011. The facility had completed nine aircraft this year and is set to assemble and deliver up to 18 aircraft in 2012.
The NH90 program was incredibly ambitious, and had its fair share of problems. Few would call the NH90 rugged. Detractors point to the 18-month maintenance periods. The NH-90 has a lot of black boxes, line replaceable units (LRUs) designed to be swapped out with a spare when one stops working. This allows the aircraft to quickly be airborne again, but only when spare LRUs are available. Afghanistan and Mali deployments proved that the technically complex aircraft could be operated in a hostile environment, but keeping them airworthy demanded experienced people. Ab-initio pilot training takes three to five years, and combat-ready work-up can take up to an additional three years.
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