Norway’s Ministry of Defence (MOD) has decided to abandon introduction of the NH90 into Royal Norwegian Air Force (RNoAF) service and authorised the Norwegian Defence Material Agency to terminate the contract.
Announcing the decision on June 10, Norwegian Minister of Defence, Bjørn Arild Gram, said: “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.”
The Norwegian Defence Material Agency has subsequently informed the manufacturer of the NH90, NATO Helicopter Industries (NHI), that it has terminated the contract in its entirety and that it will be seeking full restitution of all funds and assets received by both parties. The Agency will now begin preparations to return the helicopters along with any spares and equipment received. It will also request a refund from NHI, which will include the approximately NOK five billion it has paid under the contract, in addition to interest and other expenses.
Gro Jære, Director General of the Norwegian Defence Materiel Agency, said: “We have made repeated attempts at resolving the problems related to the NH90 in co-operation with NHI, but more than 20 years after the contract was signed, we still don’t have helicopters capable of performing the missions for which they were bought and without NHI being able to present us with any realistic solutions.
Norway’s acquisition of the NH90 began in 2001, with 14 helicopters ordered for Coast Guard and Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) duties originally slated for delivery by the end of 2008. These comprised six NH90 NFH (ASW) and eight NH90 NFH (SAR) variants. As of today, only eight have been delivered in a fully operational configuration. The fleet is currently required to provide 3.900 flight hours annually but in recent years it has averaged only about 700 hours.
In February 2022, the Norwegian Ministry of Defence requested that the Armed Forces, along with the Norwegian Defence Materiel Agency and the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment, conduct a comprehensive review of Norway’s maritime helicopter capabilities. The review concluded that even with significant additional financial investments, it would not be possible to bring the performance and availability of the NH90 to a level that would meet Norwegian requirements. Norwegian Chief of Defence, General Eirik Kristoffersen, said: “This is the right decision for the NH90 and for our maritime helicopter capability, and in line with our recommendation.”
Due to the contract termination, RNoAF flight operations with the NH90 will be discontinued and any planned future missions will be cancelled. Any Armed Forces personnel affected by the termination will receive immediate follow-up through their respective units.
General Kristoffersen said: “I am impressed by the efforts made by our organization and everyone who have worked so hard to make the NH90 deliver. This has not been a question of lack of effort, creativity and skill, but quite simply that we have received a helicopter that has not been able to deliver. Also, even though we are now moving on from the NH90, we still need the support of those who have been working on the helicopter. My priority now is therefore to take care of everyone who has worked on the NH90.”
The Norwegian Ministry of Defence will shortly begin the process of identifying an alternative maritime helicopter. Minister of Defence Bjørn Arild Gram said that “Norway continues to have a requirement for maritime helicopters and it is therefore essential that we quickly begin preparations to fill the capability gap left by the NH90. We will consider several alternative approaches to meeting our operational requirements, but we must be prepared for the fact that there will be no easy solutions.”
The first NH90 NFH (SAR) had been handed over during a ceremony at the Vergiate factory in Italy on November 30, 2011. The first NH90 NFH (ASW) followed in January 2018.
An NHI statement following the decision said: “NHIndustries 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 considers this termination to be legally groundless.
“The NH90's inherent characteristics offer any armed forces with an advanced, fully integrated mission capability, survivability, speed, range of action, discretion as well as night and all-weather operations without equal in the world in its category. In its naval configuration, it is an incomparable asset to answer the needs of Norwegian Armed Forces, allowing the most advanced surveillance capabilities in the North Sea, just as the NH90 is doing elsewhere across Europe at sea protecting nations.
NHIndustries and its Partner Companies are and have continuously been absolutely committed to addressing the concerns previously expressed and have brought the appropriate and tailored solutions to the table to meet the specific and unique Norwegian requirements. 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.”