France confirms order for 34 NH90 troop transports

The French defence ministry has confirmed an order for 34 NH Industries NH90 troop transport helicopters for the nation’s army.

A deal had been expected earlier this year, but was delayed until the publication of the French government’s defence review in April. Further details of the contract are expected to be revealed at the Paris air show in mid-June.

 

Anthony Pecchi/Eurocopter

France already operates the TTH troop transport and NFH naval variants of the NH90.

French army receives first enhanced Tiger HAD

France’s DGA defence procurement agency has received its first Eurocopter Tiger in the enhanced HAD configuration for operation by the country’s army aviation units.

The delivery on 19 April follows acceptance of the type by the DGA earlier in April and certification in January 2013. Enhancements over the previous HAP air-support variant include uprated MTR390 engines, the addition of Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-surface missiles and increased ballistic protection.

France has 40 Tiger HADs on order, with a further 24 examples ordered by Spain, including the retrofitting of six previously delivered aircraft.

Lutz Bertling, the outgoing Eurocopter chief executive, says the airframer is in discussions for at least one further Tiger order, although he plays down suggestions that any deal is close.

 

 Eurocopter

Meanwhile, France continues to mull the status of an order for 34 NH Industries NH90 troop transport helicopters, as it works to define its future defence spending priorities.

“The requirement is clearly there, but the French government is in the process of deciding which requirements will be prioritised depending on the available budget,” said Bertling at a media event in Marignane on 17 April.

Nonetheless, Bertling says he remains confident the order will come through, albeit in a modestly reduced form. “I don’t expect much deviation from 34,” he notes.

He refused to be drawn on the authenticity of a note, leaked to the French media, which purported to be from Eurocopter to the French government warning of the consequences for the NH90 programme should the commitment not be forthcoming.

However, Bertling pointed out the logic of the claims. “Any business, for whatever product, needs to make sense for a production line. Below a certain quantity it does not make such sense. Without this [French] contract we are facing a risk. We would anticipate export orders to have largely finished [by that point]. We would be facing a critical situation on that programme,” he says.

Eurocopter continues to eye further export opportunities for its military helicopters, with Bertling again highlighting the potential of the US Army’s as-yet-unlaunched Armed Aerial Scout programme. This comes despite last week’s US defence budget request for 2014, which saw the total number of UH-72 Lakotas trimmed by 30 units.

Belgian maritime NH90 makes first flight

nh90

NH Industries’ (NHI) first naval-variant NH90 to have been produced for Belgium made a 45min flight debut from Eurocopter‘s Donauwörth production site in Germany on 5 April, launching a test programme for the nation’s Westland Sea King replacement.

“The crew successfully tested the basic systems of this new generation aircraft,” NHI says. “During the next few weeks, this first Belgian NH90 NFH will perform several other test flights in order to check the aircraft behaviour and its mission system, with industry and customer crews.”

Belgium will introduce four NH90s as replacements for its maritime Sea Kings, with the Step B standard aircraft to be in a similar configuration to the NFH aircraft acquired by the Netherlands. Brussels is acquiring another four NH90s in the tactical transport helicopter variant, with the first of these having been delivered to the Belgian Air Component on 21 December 2012.

Flightglobal’s Ascend Online Fleets database records Belgium as operating four Sea King 48s, all of which were first flown in 1976.