Spain Orders New Batch of NH90 Helicopters

Following years of waffling, Spain has pulled the trigger on its option for a second-batch order of NH90 helicopters under a €1.38 billion ($1.57 billion) after receiving cabinet approval of the purchase earlier on November 16, 2018. The late December contract signing bridges the 23-unit gap between Spain’s contracted 22-unit order and its original aspiration of adding a total 45 new-build NH90s determined by a previous government back on December 22, 2006.

Instead of pulling the trigger on the full order successive governments pushed the project into abeyance due to ongoing sovereign debt and fiscal deficit pressures on budgets. The full scale of operational and maintenance costs of a 45-unit NH90 order continued to weigh on Madrid, with former Secretary of State for Defense Pedro Arguelles informing Spain’s Congress on May 23, 2013, that the government would trim the base procurement in half with the remaining unit differential from the original contract being placed on option after 2015.

The original 22-unit NH90 order cost €1.26 billion ($1.67 billion), an amount being paid by Madrid in annual installments from 2007 through 2025. These variants, referred to as GSPA per Spanish specifications, is designed to perform technical missions such as troop transport, search and rescue, personnel recovery and medical evacuation.

The Spanish Army Air Mobile Force (FAMET) refers to its allotted NH90s as the HT-29 Caiman. The FAMET received its first two operational units on September 13, 2016. Delivery of the Spanish Army’s full complement of 16 HT-29 Caimans will be achieved in 2021.

The Air Force is to receive its initial NH-90 in 2019, with its full complement of six also arriving by 2021.

Against this backdrop of ongoing first-batch NH90 deliveries the current Socialist government signed off on a fresh defense investment package worth €7.331 billion ($8.306 billion) on December 14, 2018, that covers programs across a multi-year period culminating in 2032.

This fiscal package essentially replaces the legacy Special Armaments Program involving 19 major defense programs dating to the administration of the former People’s Party government of Prime Minister José María Aznar (1996-2004).  The Special Armaments Program was to run until 2025 and was designed so that payments would steadily increase as more and more equipment was brought into service. Instead the eleven remaining ongoing projects under the Special Armaments Program will be absorbed into the new 15-year cycle running through 2032.

The step taken by the Socialist government of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez to fund a new defense investment package on top of the old one cleared the way for the second-batch order involving 23 additional NH90s to be split among the three service branches.

Under the outlines of the new batch purchase the Spanish Army will receive 10 units, with the Air Force getting six more and the final seven units allocated to the Spanish Navy. The Army and Air Force will use their new ground-based GSPA units to replace existing legacy stocks of AS332 Super Pumas while the Navy’s naval MSPT variants will allow the service to retire its oldest SH-60B Seahawks used in the anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and search and rescue (SAR) roles.

The Navy’s pressing requirement to replace its 50-year legacy SH-3D Sea King fleet is being partially filled by two refurbished ex-U.S. Navy SH-60F Seahawk maritime multi-mission utility helicopters purchased and delivered in 2017 at the cost of €40 million. Another four such units may be purchased in the near future, but for now the NH90 MSPT variants may provide additional swing-role.

All the NH90 units ordered by Spain are being at the Airbus Helicopters España plant in Albacete.

About Daniel Darling

Dan Darling is a senior analyst covering both the Europe and Asia-Pacific regions for Forecast International's International Military Markets group.

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