The Persian Gulf nation of Qatar has negotiated, but not yet signed, a deal to acquire 28 NH90 helicopters for their armed forces. The deal is worth about $3.7 billion and includes 16 NH90s in TTH (tactical transport) configuration together with 12 helicopters in NTH (naval) configuration. Much of the purchase price pays for spare parts plus maintenance and training support. The maintenance support will be expensive because Qatar already uses American MH-60 Seahawk naval patrol helicopters and British AW139 transport helicopters but no NH90s. Once the NH90 deal is signed later in 2018 the Franco-Italian manufacturer will deliver the first HN90s by 2022.
The NH90 is a twin-engine, medium-size (11-ton class) helicopter produced by European multinational consortium which mostly consists of French, Italian, Dutch and German companies. The design dates back to the late early 1990s when a few NATO countries (Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom together with France) created requirements for a new multirole helicopter to replace their current designs. The result of these requirements made it maiden flight in 1996 while the first three TTH production models were delivered to the German army in 2006.
The NH90 design uses composite materials instead of metal alloys as well as electronic fly-by-wire systems rather than hydraulic ones. These weight savings allowed NH90 to remain in 11-ton class. For example, the only slightly bigger AW101 weights about 15 tons. Moreover, the NH90 has a rear drop-down loading ramp which isn't available on American UH-60 or French HM225 Caracal competitors.
The NH90 can carry 2.5 tons of cargo, 12 stretchers or between 12-20 troops, depending on the amount of equipment they’re taking. The TTH variant can also carry up to 4-ton cargo via sling. The NH90 can fly up to 300 kilometers an hour while the maximum range for the helicopter is about 900 kilometers for TTH variant and little more than 800 kilometers for the navy NTH model. All this looks good on paper but the NH90 has been plagued with problems from the beginning. First, its operating cost is around $24,000 an hour to operate while the American made UH-60s cost about a quarter of that. Users in Germany and Sweden found a lot of embarrassing problems early on that have now been fixed. For example the Germans had complained about seats which were designed to hold up to 110 kilograms (solider with equipment usually weights more), there was not enough room for door gunners, here were no strap downs for larger weapons like portable rocket launchers or anti-aircraft missiles Moreover the passenger compartment also didn't allow for carrying cargo and passengers at the same time. The winch was not sturdy enough for commandoes to perform fast roping operations. The floor together with rear ramp wasn't sturdy enough to support many common military operations.
Despite its troubled past the NH90 has gained interest in 20 countries worldwide (most from NATO). Together with Qatar order MH90 sales rise to 543 with 350 so far delivered. Many of those sales were made for political reasons. This is especially the case with Qatar where many military hardware procurement efforts, like the NH90, have political implications. After being cut off by some of its powerful Arab neighbors in 2017 Qatar is seeking other allies in the West (especially the U.S. and Europe) and armament purchases are easy and quick way to do so although these aren't cheap. The new helicopters will replace 11 elderly Westland Sea Kings and improve transport capabilities for Qatar armed forces. -- Przemysław Juraszek