A French-built military helicopter design has had such a lengthy history of delays, maintenance headaches and other errors that Norway’s military is canceling a 21-year-old purchase contract and sending the helicopters back.
On Thursday, Norwegian Defense Minister Bjørn Arild Gram announced it will return all of the NHIndustries NH90 helicopters it has received since signing a contract to purchase 14 of the helicopters in 2001, the Associated Press reported. Arild Gram said Norway expects a full refund of the nearly 5 billion kroner ($525 million) the country has paid for the helicopters so far.
“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 meeting the requirements of the Norwegian Armed Forces,” Arild Gram said.
The NH90 is a twin-engine military design with multiple potential military mission sets in mind. NHIndustries began development of the NH90 in the 1990s in partnership with the French company Airbus Helicopters, the Italian company Leonardo and the Dutch company Fokker Technologies. Production for the helicopter is based in Aix-en-Provence, France.
The NH90 has been adopted by 13 other countries, including France, Germany, Belgium, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Spain, Finland, Sweden, Greece, the Netherlands, Oman and Qatar. Norway had selected the NH90 to gradually replace its British-made Lynx helicopters in anti-submarine warfare and coast guard roles.
Norway signed a contract in 2001 with NHIndustries to deliver 14 of the NH90 helicopters by the end of 2008. The helicopters only began to arrive in 2011. By 2012, Norway had begun efforts to extend the service life of some of its Lynx helicopters amid the continued delays in NH90 deliveries. By the start of 2016, Norway had reportedly only received the first six of the 14 helicopters.
In February 2018, Norway proposed canceling the contract but had backed off from that decision by September of that year.
In February 2022, Norway again proposed canceling the contract over delays in upgrading the helicopters with their specific mission packages. By that point, NHIndustries had delivered 13 of the helicopters but six of the helicopters were still only in an initial operating configuration and wouldn’t be at their full operating configuration until at least the end of 2023. In February, then-Norwegian defense minister Odd Roger Enoksen said forecasts put the upgrades even further back, into 2024 and said “the supplier has not given us reason to have confidence in these plans.”
The Norwegian military has also been unable to keep the helicopters tuned up for the requisite flight hours it needs from the NH90 helicopters.
“The fleet is currently required to provide 3,900 flight hours annually, but in recent years it has averaged only about 700 hours,” the Norwegian military said this week.
In a statement on Thursday, NHIndustries said it is “extremely disappointed by the decision taken by the Norwegian Ministry of Defence and refutes the allegations being made against the NH90 as well as against the Company. NHIndustries was not offered the possibility to discuss the latest proposal made to improve the availability of the NH90 in Norway and to address the specific Norwegian requirements.”
NHIndustries also said Norway’s move to send back the helicopters and request a full refund is “legally groundless.”
“With 13 helicopters delivered out of 14 and the fourteenth ready for acceptance, we were close to finalizing the main scope of the initial contract,” NHIndustries said.