The Norwegian government announced on Friday that it was retiring its fleet of NH90 helicopters and terminating the associated program with immediate effect. The Norwegian Defence Material Agency has been authorized to begin work on returning the helicopters, their spare parts and other support equipment to manufacturer NATO Helicopter Industries (NHIndustries). The military procurement agency will also be seeking a full refund inclusive of the approximately five billion Norwegian krone paid to NHIndustries under the contract, in addition to interest and other expenses.
In a press conference announcing the move, 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. Based on a joint recommendation by the Armed Forces and associated departments and agencies, the Norwegian Government has therefore decided to end the introduction of the NH90 and has authorized the Norwegian Defence Material Agency to terminate the contract.”
Norway signed for 14 NH90s in coast guard and anti-submarine warfare configurations in 2001, with deliveries expected to conclude in 2008. Instead, the first NH90 was not delivered until December 2011, and only eight have been delivered in a fully operational configuration as of the decision to terminate operations, according to Oslo. Availability of the NH90s has been dismal, with an annual average of 700 flight hours in recent years instead of the 3,900 specified.
“We have made repeated attempts at resolving the problems related to the NH90 in cooperation 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”, said Gro Jære, Director General of the Norwegian Defence Materiel Agency.
The decision to retire the NH90s and seek a refund was made following the conclusion of a review of Norwegian maritime helicopter capabilities by the Norwegian Armed Forces, the Norwegian Defence Materiel Agency and the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment. The review, commissioned by the Ministry of Defense, found that even with “significant” additional financial investments, it would not be possible to bring the performance and reliability of the NH90s to Norwegian requirements. Oslo will soon launch a program to explore replacement options for the NH90s.
In a press statement, NHIndustries said that the contract termination was “legally groundless”, claiming that the company 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 added that it was close to “finalizing the main scope of the initial contract” at the time Oslo decided to terminate the contract, with 13 helicopters delivered out of 14 and the fourteenth ready for acceptance.
Oslo’s claims that its NH90 program cannot be salvaged is reminiscent of the Australian Armed Forces’ announcement last December that it would be retiring its locally manufactured NH90 variants and replacing them with American-made Black Hawks a full decade ahead of schedule. At the time, Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton described the issues experienced by the MRH-90 Taipan fleet as ultimately “unresolvable”.