Procurement: The Best Versus the Cheapest

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December 4, 2007: France has ordered 56 NH90 helicopters, for about $48 million each. The NH90 is eating into the export market for American made Blackhawk transport helicopters. Over 600 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 NH90 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 the NH90. Although the latest version of the Blackhawk is up to date technically, it is slightly smaller and lighter than the NH90, and can only carry eleven troops. Blackhawk max speed is 285 kilometers an hour and endurance is 2.1 hours. The NH90 has more powerful engines and larger fuel capacity. The big difference is in cost, with new NH90s more than twice as expensive as a new Blackhawk. But for many bargain conscious nations, Russia is having continued success with its Huey era Mi-8 (export versions are called Mi17). 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. But the Mi-8 costs about half as much as a UH-60, and the larger interior is popular with many users. Nearly 3,000 Mi17s have been exported. If you want the best, you get the NH90, if you want mobility for the least cost, you get the Mi-17.

 


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