The Nato frigate helicopter (NFH) is one of two versions of the NH90 twin-engine multirole helicopter manufactured by NHIndustries. The other version is the NH90 TTH (tactical transport helicopter).
NHIndustries, the prime contractor for the programme, is a joint venture company between Airbus Helicopters (formerly Eurocopter Group), Leonardo, and GKN Fokkerr.
As of April 2021, 444 NH90 aircraft are operational in 13 countries. NHIndustries delivered 100 naval NH90 helicopters to six nations by November 2020.
NH90 NFH Nato frigate helicopter roles
The primary missions of the NH90 NFH helicopter are in the autonomous anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and anti-surface ship warfare (AsuW) role.
In a typical four-hour ‘relocation on call’ operation, the helicopter would take: 35 minutes to reach the area of operation; 20 minutes releasing sonobuoys; two hours on surveillance in operations; 30 minutes releasing torpedoes; and 35 minutes to return to ship and land, with 20 minutes in reserve.
In a typical four-hour ‘screening’ operation, the helicopter would take: 15 minutes to reach the area of operation; three hours and 30 minutes in the operations zone carrying out 11 consecutive cycles of ten-minute sonar dipping; and 15 minutes to return to the ship and land, with 20 minutes reserve.
In the anti-surface warfare role, the helicopter is capable of detection, tracking, classification, identification, and attack of hostile ships, and has over-the-horizon capability. Secondary roles include anti-air warfare (AAW), vertical replenishment (VERTREP), search and rescue (SAR), troop transport and mine laying.
Cockpit and avionics systems of NH90 NFH
The helicopter has a crew of three: the pilot and Tacco (the tactical coordinator responsible for mission management) and the Senso (sensor systems operator) in the cabin. The cabin of the NFH is equipped with an avionics bay with a sensor operator station, a tactical coordinator station, a dipping sonar and a sonobuoy launcher.
The NH90 has ‘fly-by-wire’ all-electric flight controls from Goodrich Actuation Systems and Liebherr Aerospace. This full authority quadruplex system increases the manoeuvrability of the aircraft while decreasing the weight. The avionics system is supplied by Thales Avionics and is based on a dual MIL-STD-1553B digital databus.
The cockpit has five 8in×8in colour multifunction liquid crystal displays for flight, mission systems and maintenance data, and a Honeywell Primus 701A weather radar.
The avionics package includes the Thales Topowl helmet-mounted sight and display which has a 40° field of view. Topowl also equips the Tiger and Rooivalk attack helicopters.
Under a contract awarded in January 2008, German NH90 helicopters are fitted with EADS Defence Electronics MilOWS, a military version of the HELLAS laser-based helicopter obstacle warning system.
Armament of the NH90 NFH helicopter
The Nato frigate helicopter can be armed with anti-submarine torpedoes, air-to-surface missiles, and air-to-air missiles.
The helicopters for France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Finland are fitted with a self-protection suite from EADS Defence Electronics, which is also being supplied to the Tiger helicopter. The suite includes EADS AN/AAR-60 MILDS missile approach warning system, Thales TWE threat warning equipment with integrated radar warning and laser warning receivers, and a MBDA Saphir-M chaff and flare dispenser.
Norwegian NFH have the ITT AN/ALQ-211 integrated radio frequency countermeasures (IRFCM) suite. Swedish helicopters are equipped with an EW suite supplied by Saab Avionics, in conjunction with Avitronics.
Sensors onboard NH90 NFH
The NFH is equipped with a tactical forward-looking infrared (FLIR) system mounted in the nose, a magnetic anomaly detector (MAD) and a sonar suite. French Navy NFH is fitted with the Flash Sonics sonar system from Thales Underwater Systems, which combines the Flash active dipping sonar with the TMS 2000 sonobuoy processing system.
The Norwegian and Swedish Navy NFH operate a version of the system, Flash-S, optimised for conditions in the Baltic Sea.
Dutch, Italian and German NFH are equipped with the helicopter long-range active sonar (HELRAS). The HELRAS dipping sonar is supplied by ELAC Nautik, which was formerly a subsidiary of L-3 Communications. Wärtsilä acquired ELAC Nautik in 2015 and completed the sale of the business to UK-based technology company Cohort in December 2020.
The NFH is equipped with a Thales European navy radar (ENR) 360° surveillance radar mounted under the nose. ENR is derived from Thales Ocean Master and has been developed in conjunction with EADS and Galileo Avionica. Swedish NFH has an AN/APS-143B(V)3 Ocean Eye multi-mode surveillance radar from Telephonics. Ocean Eye has both synthetic aperture radar and inverse synthetic aperture radar imaging modes.
Communications onboard the NH90
The NH90 is equipped with an integrated communications and identification management system. The secure radio system provides air-to-air and air-to-ground communications. The TSC 2000 IFF (identification friend or foe) supplied by Thales was developed under German and French cooperation. The helicopter is equipped with a Link 11 secure datalink.
Engines of the NH90 NFH Nato helicopter
The NFH Helicopter is powered by two RTM 322-01/9 engines supplied by Rolls-Royce Turbomeca.
For the Italian requirement, GE Aircraft Engines and Avio co-produced another engine model, the T700/T6E1. The engines are fitted with a FADEC system. The engine model has also been selected by Spain.
In August 2007, a version of the RTM-322 for hot-and-high conditions was certificated by Rolls-Royce Turbomeca, for the helicopters for Oman.
The fuel tanks, which hold 1,900kg of fuel, are fitted with crash-resistant, self-sealing cells supplied by Uniroyal Englebert Reifen, which is based in Aachen, Germany.
The fuel management system is by AFG. The auxiliary power unit (APU), from the Microturbo division of the Labinal Group, now part of French engine and aerospace components supplier Safran, provides electrical engine starting and powers the ground operation environmental control system (ECS).
NH90 orders and deliveries
The NATO Helicopter Management Agency (NAHEMA), on behalf of the participating countries, signed a contract for the production of the first batch of 298 NH90s in June 2000. The programme included the immediate production commitment of 366 helicopters, while the total production requirement was 595 units.
The order included France (27 NFH), Germany (80 TTH, with an option on a further 54), Italy (46 NFH and 70 TTH), and the Netherlands (20 NFH). Germany converted 42 options to firm orders (30 TTH for the Army and 12 TTH for the Air Force) in June 2007. The first series-production TTH helicopter made its maiden flight in May 2004 and the first NFH in August 2007. The French Army ordered an additional 34 NH90 TTH helicopters plus 34 options to replace its ageing Puma helicopters. The French Navy placed orders for 27 NH90 NFH helicopters to replace its Lynx and Super Frelon helicopters.
The first deliveries of the NH90 took place on 13 December 2006, when three TTH transport helicopters were handed over to the German Army following type certification. Eurocopter signed a contract with the German Federal Ministry of Defence to supply Forward Air MedEvac Kits (FwdAirMedEvac) for upgrading 12 NH90 TTH units of the German Armed Forces in June 2011. The upgrade allowed the aircraft to provide quick-change, intensive-care medical transportation in forward-air evacuation operations.
The German Bundeswehr ordered 31 NH90 ‘Sea Tigers’ for the German Navy to meet its requirement for shipborne operations in November 2020. The helicopters, which are the German version of the NFH, will replace the German Navy’s ageing fleet of Sea Lynx Mk88A helicopters, which have been in service since 1981.
The ‘Sea Lion’ NH90 naval multi-role helicopters were ordered by the German Armed Forces in June 2015. The First NH90 Sea Lion was delivered to the Bundeswehr in October 2019. The country is expected to receive 18 Sea Lions by 2022. Set to replace the German Navy’s Sea King Mk41 fleet, the Sea Lion will be used for missions such as search and rescue (SAR), maritime reconnaissance, personnel and material transportation, as well as special forces operations. Equipped with software-defined airborne radios (SDR) of the SOVERON® airborne family from Rohde & Schwarz, it is expected to support land-based operations and be able to operate from the Type 702 Berlin-class auxiliary ships.
Deliveries of the TTH to Italy began in December 2007. The Italian Navy received the first NFH helicopter in June 2011. The first delivery of the NH90 NFH helicopter in Step B configuration or full operational capability was completed in November 2013.
In June 2001, Portugal became the fifth nation to join the NH90 programme, with a requirement for ten NH90 TTH helicopters. It cancelled its order for the ten helicopters and withdrew from the NH90 programme in 2014.
In September 2001, the NH90 was chosen as the common helicopter for the Nordic standard helicopter programme, for the navies of Norway, Sweden, and Finland. Sweden ordered 18 (13 TTT, five NFH), Finland 20 TTH and Norway 14 NFH (six for ASW and six for the coastguard). The first, a transport variant (called HKP14 in Swedish service), was delivered to Sweden in June 2007. Sweden was the first customer for the high-cabin version (HCV), which has a cabin height of 1.82m compared to 1.58m for the standard version. Deliveries to Finland began in March 2008.
The Swedish helicopters include nine in the land-based roles and the remaining nine in naval roles. The final 18th HKP14 was delivered to the Swedish Armed Forces in 2019.
Greece signed a contract with NHIndustries for the purchase of 20 NH90 helicopters, including 16 TTH variants and four special operations variants in August 2003. The contract also included an option for an additional 14 helicopters. The Hellenic Ministry of National Defence signed a contract amendment with NHIndustries in April 2021. The revised contract will enable the Hellenic Army to receive the final six of the 20 helicopters. The amendment provides the framework for the development of a sustainable support system for the fleet in Greece.
In July 2004, 20 NH90 helicopters were ordered by the Royal Air Force of the Sultanate of Oman. Ten helicopters were handed over by June 2012.
In August 2004, the Australian Ministry of Defence selected a version of the helicopter, the MRH 90, to meet the Australian Army requirement for 12 troop transport helicopters under the Air 9000 programme. The contract was signed in June 2005.
The first four helicopters were built by Eurocopter in France, the remainder by Australian Aerospace, a subsidiary of Eurocopter. The first MRH90 made its maiden flight in March 2007. The first two helicopters were delivered in November 2007 and entered service with the Australian Army in December 2007.
A further 35 helicopters were ordered for the Australian Navy in June 2006 for delivery by 2014. The first locally assembled MRH90 was delivered in December 2008. The MRH90 replaced the ageing Navy Sea King and Army Black Hawk helicopters.
In April 2005, the NH90 was selected to replace the Royal New Zealand Air Force’s fleet of UH-1H Iroquois helicopters. A contract for nine helicopters was signed in July 2006. The first two helicopters were delivered in December 2011. All the helicopters were delivered by October 2014.
Belgium placed an order for eight NH90, four NFH naval and four TTH transport plus two optional TTH helicopters in June 2007. The first NH90 in TTH configuration was delivered in December 2012, while the final TTH was handed over in November 2014.
In January 2007, the Spanish government placed an order for an initial batch of 45 helicopters in the TTH configuration. The first two NH90 TTH units were transferred from the Airbus Helicopters plant in Albacete, Spain, to the Spanish Army in September 2016. The Spanish Army Airmobile Force (FAMET) received 13 helicopters under the programme. The Spanish Air Force received the first NH90 intended for SAR and combat SAR (CSAR) missions in October 2020. The Spanish Air Force is acquiring a total of 12 NH90s which will replace the AS332 Super Pumas.
In December 2003, the NH90 became the first medium-sized transport helicopter to fly with full fly-by-wire controls, with no mechanical back-up. This is the serial production configuration.
In July 2009, the French Navy completed the compatibility tests of the NH90 helicopter onboard Horizon-class ship Chevalier Paul. The helicopter entered operational service in December 2011. Seven helicopters were delivered by July 2012.
The first NH90 helicopter was delivered to the Royal Norwegian Navy in November 2011. The Norwegian Ministry of Defence (MoD) received the 12th NH90 NNWN002 helicopter in July 2021.
Qatar ordered 16 NH90 TTH and 12 NH90 NFH aircraft in March 2018. The delivery of the entire fleet of helicopters is expected to be completed by 2025. The first flight tests of the first NH90 TTH and NFH aircraft for the Qatar Emiri Air Force were conducted in December 2020.
NAHEMA signed a firm contract with NHIndustries to upgrade a batch of ten TTH aircraft already ordered by the French Ministry of Armed Forces. The deliveries of the new TFRA Standard 2 TTH aircraft are expected in 2025.
The NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA) signed a logistic items contract with NHIndustries in April 2020. The contract continues ongoing logistic support for the NH90 helicopters which are operational with Belgium, Germany, France, the Netherlands, and Italy.
TFRA Standard 2 configuration
The TFRA standard 2 configuration will be equipped with a new-generation electro-optical system (EOS) EuroFLIR™ from Safran. The upgraded cockpit will feature displays and controls for pilots, gunners, commandos, and loadmasters. The upgrade will enable enhanced mission planning. The helicopter cabin will have removable doors and a fast-rope beam to support side-mounted machine guns from the rear. The improvements will also include an advanced 3D map and folding boarding steps.
Furthermore, the TFRA standard 2 configuration is expected to incorporate a distributed aperture system (DAS) comprising fixed infrared cameras and a 3D vision helmet-mounted sight digital display for enhanced pilot support in adverse situations and low-visibility conditions.
Step-B configuration of NH90 NFH helicopters
The step B configuration NH90s of the Italian Navy supports the integration of weapon systems, including air-to-surface missiles and torpedoes. The communication systems include advanced satellite, encrypted communications. The Step B configuration also has a mission planning & analysis system (MPAS), which leverages the Skyflight™ multi-helicopter flight and mission planning solution to enable multi-mission and multi-platform mission planning.