Defence ministers from France, Germany, Greece, Italy and the UK signed a letter of intent on November 19 to design, develop and deliver a new medium-lift multi-role helicopter under a multinational initiative.
Known as the Next Generation Rotorcraft Capability (NGRC) project, the initiative is considered to be a High Visibility Project by NATO and seeks to modernise existing rotorcraft fleets. The organisation highlights that a “significant number” of medium-lift multi-role helicopter capabilities operated by member nations will need replacing in the 2035-2040 period and beyond. The NGRC programme intends to design, develop and deliver a solution for these future requirements by leveraging recent technological advancements, production methods and operational concepts.
NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană said: “By investing our resources and channelling our development initiatives through a multinational framework, we a making sure allies are equipped with the best available capabilities, which helps to maintain NATO’s technological edge.”
In the coming years, experts from all five nations will come together to cover a programme of work, which will start with outlining a statement of requirements. This will inform a concept phase, along with a multi-phase cooperation for defining, developing and fielding the NGRC capability. NATO envisages that defence ministers will sign a memorandum of understanding for initiating the concept phase in 2022 and plans for the first NGRC aircraft to be delivered between 2035 and 2040.
NATO differentiates between three different classes of helicopter (light, medium and heavy), which is determined by the payload that can be carried by individual platforms. The NGRC concept will initially focus on medium multi-role helicopters, like the Leonardo Helicopters AW101 Merlin – considering the future requirements of participating nations and the speed of technological advancements.
The organisation states that “medium multi-role helicopters offer a large degree of versatility. Their operational use incorporates a wide range of missions including tactical operations such as insertion and extraction of Special Operation Forces, transport of small and medium-sized cargo and troops into, out of, and within operational theatres, medical evacuation, search and rescue, and anti-submarine warfare.
“Their size allows them to take-off and land in topographically restricted areas such as forest glades or mountain ranges, adding to their operational flexibility. By fielding a shared helicopter design, the NGRC initiative aims to increase interoperability amongst participating allies,” NATO added.