French defense procurement agency, Directorate General of Armaments (DGA) ordered the conversion of ten contracted NH90 helicopters into special operations configuration on September 29.
The helicopters, designated NH90 FS, are being procured from from NHIndustries, with Thales and Safran as major suppliers. The special forces version of the NH90 aims to provide French special forces with new intervention capabilities suited to their missions in all types of theaters.
“This technological development is a concrete illustration of the modernization of equipment provided for by the Military Programming Law (LPM) 2019-2025”, said a French Ministry of Armed Forces statement.
The 2019-2025 LPM provides for the delivery of ten NH90 FS, including five in 2025. The remaining five is expected to be delivered in 2026.
Eighteen months after the launch of the preparatory studies, carried out in part in cooperation with Belgium and Australia, the NAHEMA (NATO HElicopter Management Agency) has just notified, by delegation of the DGA, the contract for the development of the special forces version of the NH90. An amendment to the production contract for the 74 NH90 TTHs ordered for the benefit of the French Army was also notified to cover the modification of the last ten aircraft to the special forces standard.
Intended for the French Army Light Aviation (ALAT) special operations unit, the 4th Special Forces Helicopter Regiment (4e RHFS), the NH90 FS will eventually offer penetration and operating capabilities in very degraded visibility conditions, in particular in theaters of operation deemed difficult such as the Sahelo-Saharan strip.
The main improvements to the NH90 FS relate to:
• the addition of a new optronic observation system (the new generation Euroflir 410 from Safran Electronics & Defense) to allow improved detection of obstacles and threats, in tactical flight and in all night conditions;
• the possibility of using the rear exit of the TTH for air rope operations with self-protection by the side doors;
• various improvements to the hold of the NH90 to allow, among other things, the use of the rear exit in flight or the display of video from the optronic observation system for the benefit of personnel in the hold.
In addition, electrical and mechanical provisions have been taken to subsequently integrate:
• the upgrading of the TopOwl helmet from Thales, i.e. the switch from analogue to digital display to offer new capabilities such as the display of high-resolution video of the piloting and mission sensors (Eurofl’eye & Euroflir), the development and display of augmented reality (synthetic terrain and obstacles) and the display of “tactical” 3D symbols. This equipment will be common with the next standard 3 of the Tiger attack helicopter;
• a Eurofl’Eye “wide field optronics system” developed by Safran Electronics & Defense to improve piloting conditions in degraded visual environments (DVEs, such as landing at night or in a sandy environment) by offering independent fields of vision to the pilot and the co-pilot.
Developed as part of a European cooperation program bringing together Germany, Belgium, France, Italy and the Netherlands, the NH90 helicopter is available in two versions: the TTH (Tactical Transport Helicopter) for support missions for land forces, and the NFH (NATO Frigate Helicopter) for maritime rescue, anti-ship and anti-submarine missions. It has since been chosen by nine other countries (Australia, Spain, Finland, Greece, Norway, New Zealand, Oman, Qatar and Sweden). A total of 566 NH90 helicopters have been ordered.
The NH90 program is carried out under the aegis of the NATO organization NAHEMO (NATO HElicopter Management Organization) which relies on an agency, NAHEMA, whose mission is to coordinate and execute requests from national contracting authorities. For France, the program is led by the DGA. Project management is provided by the NHIndustries consortium, made up of the Airbus Helicopters group and the manufacturers Leonardo Helicopters and Fokker Aerostructures.
A twin-engine helicopter in the 11-ton class, the NH90 is the first military helicopter with electric flight controls. The NH90s intended for the French forces will be manufactured at the Marignane (Bouches du Rhône) site of Airbus Helicopters France.
Between 2000 and 2015, France ordered a total of 74 NH90 TTHs and 27 NH90 NFHs. To date, 24 NFHs have been delivered for the French Navy, and 45 TTHs for the Army.
• the NFH is gradually replacing the Lynx and the Super Frelon (already withdrawn from active service) of the French Navy. Its main missions are the protection of the naval force, maritime counter-terrorism, transport from land or ships, public service, and search and rescue;
• the TTH is gradually replacing the Army’s Puma helicopters. Its main missions are the tactical transport of troops (up to 20 commandos) and equipment (up to 2.5 tons). The secondary missions are fire support, parachuting or the evacuation of wounded. In 2025, the NH90-TTHs will constitute the Army’s main helicopter fleet.