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Don't Use The NH-90 In Combat
by James Dunnigan
March 14, 2010

The German Army Air Mobility and Air Transport School conducted an evaluation of their new NH-90 helicopters. They had some complaints. Their conclusion was that, for combat missions, another model helicopter should be used whenever possible.

A particular problem was the lack of ground clearance. The NH-90 can't land on a piece of ground with any obstacles higher than 16 cm (6.4 inches). That makes many battlefield landing zones problematic. That assumes you can even get on a NH-90 and find a seat. The passenger seats cannot hold more than 110 kg (242 pounds). Combat equipment for German troops weighs 25 kg (55 pounds), meaning any soldier weighing more than 85 kg (187) has to take stuff off, put it on the floor, than quickly put it back on before exiting. Then there's the floor, it's not very sturdy, and combat troops using the helicopter for a short while, cause damage that takes the helicopter out of action for repairs. Worse, there is the rear ramp. It cannot support troops carrying all their equipment, making it useless for rapid exits of combat troops. There is not enough room in the passenger compartment for door gunners. There are no strap downs for larger weapons, like portable rocket launchers or anti-aircraft missiles. The passenger compartment also does not allow for carrying cargo and passengers at the same time. The winch is not sturdy enough for commandoes to perform fast roping operations. And so on. The Germans were not pleased with the NH-90.

Germany has 122 NH-90s on order, at a cost of over $50 million each. Choppers like these are popular for peacekeeping operations, as long as the troops don't use them while suited up for combat. The first one arrived four years ago. The deficiencies noted can be fixed by modifying the helicopter, but this would drive the price beyond $50 million.

Meanwhile, the NH-90 is eating into the export market for American made UH-60 Blackhawk transport helicopters. Over 500 NH90s have been sold so far, and often they beat out Blackhawks for sales. American armed forces currently use some 2,000 Blackhawks, and hundreds more have been sold to overseas customers.

The ten ton NH-90 can carry 21 troops or twelve casualties on stretchers, plus the crew of two. It first flew in 1995. The manufacturer, NH Industries, is a consortium of French, German, Dutch and Italian firms. The Blackhawk design is twenty years older than that of the NH-90. Although the latest version of the Blackhawk is up to date technically, it is slightly smaller and lighter than the NH-90, and can only carry eleven troops. Blackhawk max speed is 285 kilometers an hour and endurance is 2.1 hours. The NH-90 has more powerful engines and larger fuel capacity. The big difference is in cost, with new NH-90s more than twice as expensive as a new Blackhawk. But the UH-60 is combat proven, and popular with combat troops.

For many bargain conscious nations, Russian helicopters are preferred. In particular, the Mi-8, or export version called Mi-17, are still in big demand. This chopper is about twice the size and weight of the UH-1, but only hauls about 50 percent more cargo. However, the Mi-8 has a larger interior, and can carry 24 troops, versus a dozen in the UH-1. The UH-1 was replaced by the UH-60 in the 1980s, while the Mi-8 just kept adding better engines and electronics to the basic Mi-8 frame. But the UH-60, while weighing as much as the UH-1 (4.8 tons), could carry as much as the 12 ton Mi-8. However, the Mi-8 costs about half as much as a UH-60, and the larger interior is popular with many users. Nearly 3,000 Mi-17s have been exported. If you want the best (or at least most expensive) , you get the NH-90, if you want mobility for the least cost, you get the Mi-17. If you want something in between, you get the UH-60. Many peacekeeping and humanitarian operations go for the Mi-17, which can be leased from East European firms.

 
 

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