The NH90 is an advanced medium utility helicopter, capable of undertaking a wide variety of roles in New Zealand and overseas.
The RNZAF will introduce eight NH90 helicopters to replace Iroquois fleet.
The NH90 is a product of more than 10 years of development and testing to meet stringent capability and low maintenance requirements.
The Iroquois has been in RNZAF service since 1966. As early as the 1980s the RNZAF considered upgrade options for the Iroquois, but these were not pursued. During the late 1990s the Air Force again considered options to improve the NZDF’s utility helicopter capability, either through upgrade or replacement. The key issues driving this consideration were:
- airframe fatigue problems (including fin spars and rotor blades)
- equipment obsolescence.
- limited performance in tropical conditions.
The Iroquois’ performance limitations during operations in East Timor between 1999 and 2002 reinforced the need for urgent action. The Defence Statement of May 2001 noted that the "Iroquois helicopter fleet will be upgraded or replaced". Extensive consultation led to the development of Force Development Proposal (FDP) that identified the requirement for a new capability to meet both military and whole of government needs. That FDP was accepted by Government, and the Iroquois replacement project was incorporated into the NZDF Long Term Development Plan (LTDP).
When the Sioux replacement project began work in parallel, it became clear that there were synergies between the two projects and the two were combined into an NZDF Helicopter Capability project. The Helicopter Capability project consulted widely to develop a ‘whole of government’ functional specification for the capability. From this capability specification, separate specifications for a Medium Utility helicopter (MUH) and a Training/Light Utility Helicopter (T/LUH) were identified.
Medium Utility Helicopter
An initial approach to industry was made in early 2004 which resulted in a number of aircraft being considered. Following a period of evaluation and due diligence, the Government announced on 31 March 2005 that the NH90 helicopter provided by NATO Helicopter Industries (NHI) was the preferred solution for the Medium Utility Helicopter requirement. A contract for the acquisition of eight operational NH90 helicopters, spares, logistics support and training was signed on 31 July 2006.
While the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is responsible for the acquisition project, the RNZAF has responsibility for the Introduction into Service (IIS) of the MUH. This IIS task covers both logistics and operational considerations, and includes the conduct of Operational Test and Evaluation (OT&E).
The Ministry of Defence acquisition division has a Resident Project Team based at the Eurocopter manufacturing plant for the NZ NH90s in Marignane, France. This team, which includes seconded RNZAF personnel, is responsible for managing the ongoing acquisition project and maintaining oversight of the development and production.
In parallel with the Ministry of Defence acquisition project, the NZDF has formed a number of teams to manage the Introduction Into Service (IIS) of NH90. The Directorate of Engineering and Certification includes a team of technical staff managing the through life support and logistics aspects of the NH90 IIS while a new unit – the Helicopter Transition Unit (HTU) – manage the operational aspects. HTU was established to separate the conduct of IIS activities from current operational outputs (which are being sustained by No 3 Squadron using the UH-1H Iroquois). These units work with the NZDF Capability Branch to ensure all IIS activities are efficiently and effectively carried out. Once both the A109LUH and NH90 have achieved milestone capability levels, the HTU will be disbanded and its operations will be subsumed by No 3 Squadron.
RNZAF maintenance staff and aircrew have completed training at the manufacturer’s facilities in France. This training saw our people maintaining and flying our aircraft and they can attest to what a fantastic machine NH90 is. They have now returned to New Zealand to consolidate their knowledge in preparation for the delivery of the first NH90s to Ohakea.
Once the aircraft arrive, the Operational Testing and Evaluation (OT&E) will begin. This lengthy process is required to ensure that the equipment that has been purchased is ready to undertake the roles, tasks and missions that Government require. The completion of OT&E will see the NH90 MUH take its place in the NZDF which has been so proudly reserved for the Iroquois for over 40 years.