Minister of Defence suspends acceptance of new Dutch NH90 helicopters

The corrosion and wear symptoms on the NH90 helicopter are more serious than expected, leading the Ministry of Defence to suspend acceptance of the remaining 7 helicopters ordered from NHIndustries (NHI). Minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert informed the House of Representatives to this effect today. The new helicopters will only be accepted if an agreement on solutions to the problems is reached with the manufacturer, including the question of who will pay for the necessary repairs. Hennis expects to have a clearer picture after the summer.

A NH90-helicopter

Image: Archive Netherlands Ministry of Defence

NH90 helicopters were successfully deployed by the Netherlands in the counterpiracy mission near Somalia and in the Caribbean. Back in the Netherlands, it was found that 1 helicopter displayed excessive corrosion and wear. A second helicopter showed similar symptoms, but to a lesser extent. The National Aerospace Laboratory in an inspection identified a total of approximately 100 shortcomings, comprising a combination of design faults, assembly errors and incorrect choice of materials. In a number of cases, combining materials without insulating them led to corrosion. The corrosion is causing extra wear in moving parts.

France is also experiencing problems with the NH90, albeit to a lesser extent.

Manufacturer

The Netherlands Defence organisation informed the manufacturer about the problems in March this year. This was done through the NATO Helicopter Management Agency (NAHEMO), the organisation that concluded the contract with NHI on behalf of the partner countries. NHI responded immediately by setting up a task force to investigate and search for solutions. Since then, the manufacturer has worked out technical solutions for about 60% of the problems. NHI will need until September to find solutions to all of the problems. It has also developed a corrosion prevention programme, which it will carry out in collaboration with the Netherlands Defence organisation during regular maintenance work on the helicopters.

A NH90 helicopter landing on deck

Image: Archive Netherlands Ministry of Defence

Consequences

Delivery of the remaining 7 NH90 will be further delayed due to the problems, with Minister Hennis allowing for a period of 6 months. Because the NH90s will not be able to rack up the number of flying hours originally scheduled, the shortfall in helicopter capability will increase. Regular maintenance periods will also last longer due to the necessary extra modifications. The postponed introduction of the NH90 helicopter means that there has been less opportunity to fly with it. As a result, there are fewer fully-trained crews and technicians available for the NH90. It is now expected to take until 2019 for sufficient personnel to be available to fully support maritime operations.

Helicopter deployment

The increased capability shortfall will also affect operations. Execution of the helicopters' tasks, such as supporting maritime, amphibious and land operations, will be limited. The corrosion and wear have no consequences for planned deployments in 2014. NH90s are used for counterpiracy missions. In Curaçao, a Cougar transport helicopter is used to assist the Coast Guard. Operations in the Caribbean are also supported by the United States Coast Guard helicopter.

In 2015 and 2016, the NH90 is to be deployed for the counterpiracy mission. In Curaçao, Hennis intends to continue operating the Cougar in that period. Whether a US Coast Guard helicopter will remain available to assist counterdrugs operations in the Caribbean is now being investigated.

In 2017, the Netherlands Defence organisation will be able use NH90s both for the counterpiracy mission and operations in the Caribbean. What is to be done after 2017 still has to be examined. In addition to the available Cougars, a number of helicopters from the pool of Cougars that are up for sale could be used.

Costs

The financial consequences will be discussed with NAHEMA and the manufacturer. The Defence organisation will claim compensation for the extra costs of maintenance and modifications on the NH90 from NHI. It is impossible at this stage to make a realistic estimate of what these costs will amount to. The costs of the Cougar helicopters will be covered by the Defence budget until 2018. The one-off costs of making a number of for-sale Cougars operational again, as well as the loss of revenue that occurs if they are not sold, will also be accommodated by the Defence budget. Hennis will assess whether the costs of extending the Cougar's service can be charged to the NH90 manufacturer.