Under new defense spending and equipment plans laid out by Sweden’s defense chief, Gen. Micael Byden, Sweden plans to follow the lead of neighboring Norway and retire its existing fleet of NH90 helicopters. The proposal – which would see the NH90s replaced by Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawks and a yet-to-be-determined type – was revealed on November 1.
The Swedish fleet is currently used in multiple missions, including transport, search and rescue (SAR), and anti-submarine warfare (ASW).
The Swedish military also operates a fleet of 15 UH-60M Black Hawk utility helicopters that were acquired through the U.S. government-to-government Foreign Military Sales (FMS) channel in 2010 to help address a shortfall in medevac and combat SAR rotor-lift capabilities in the Afghan theater.
The acquisition of the UH-60Ms emerged as an urgent requirement due to delays in Sweden’s NH90 deliveries, which fell years behind schedule.
Ordered in September 2001, the Swedish NH90 complement of 18 units was supposed to be delivered and reach Full Operational Capability (FOC) standard by 2008. Instead, the procurement was beset with delays, and the Swedish Air Force only received its first complement of NH90s in Initial Operational Capability (IOC) configuration (four basic configuration models) in April 2011.
The final Swedish NH90 – referred to as HKP 14 in Swedish service – was handed over to Sweden’s defense procurement arm, the FMV, at the production facility in Marignane, France, in July 2019.
After undertaking a review of its NH90 fleet earlier this year, Swedish officials noted the need to update the ASW capabilities on the naval variant (HKP 14F) while voicing concern over the availability of the ground-based transport types (the HKP 14E variant). By this time, Swedish frustration with the platform had already mounted.
Under Byden’s proposal, the NH90 fleet will begin being withdrawn in 2024, with the entire fleet retired by 2030.
During the same 2024-2030 period, a parallel acquisition for a new maritime platform will run while additional UH-60 Black Hawks are also procured. Any delays encountered in delivery of replacements will result in more gradual NH90 withdrawals, but the entire fleet is to be retired by 2035 at the latest under the new plans.
The proposal has yet to be approved by the Swedish government but will likely move ahead.
The Swedish decision to ditch the NH90 is part of a wider feeling dissatisfaction across the Nordic nations that has already seen Norway look elsewhere and Finland reporting low availability rates. https://t.co/M4ZxIG52wu
— Gareth Jennings (@GarethJennings3) November 1, 2022
Meanwhile, the NH90 continues to suffer blows on the global market.
The Australian government announced on December 10, 2021, that the Australian Army will be prematurely retiring its fleet of NH90s (referred to in Australian service as the MRH90 Taipan) and replacing them with up to 40 UH-60M Black Hawks.
Norway then announced the termination of its contract with NH Industries on June 10, 2022, and plans to return the 13 NH90 helicopters it has so far received in return for a full refund of the NOK5 billion ($500 million) invested in their acquisition.
Sweden’s dissatisfaction with the platform is just the latest chapter in the NH90 story.
For its part, NH Industries – the three-way consortium involving Airbus Helicopters, Leonardo and GKN/Fokker – maintains that the low levels of availability to the Swedish fleet in recent years are due to a combination of customized Swedish requirements and a retrofit and upgrade program begun in 2017 that is expected to wrap up next year.