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Airbus announces new upgrade of Nh90 Helicopter to extend its lifespan.

NHIndustries (NHI) and the NATO Helicopter Management Agency (NAHEMA) have signed a contract to initiate the development and qualification of the NH90 Block 1 upgrade (also known as Software Release 3). NAHEMA acted on behalf of Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, and Italy. This program is part of the NH90's evolutionary roadmap and represents a major upgrade in capabilities for both the TTH and NFH variants of the NH90 combat helicopter.
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NH90 in Naval version, specialized in Search and Rescue -SaR- (Picture source: Airbus )

Axel Aloccio, President of NHI and NH90 Program Manager at Airbus Helicopters, stated, "The signing of the SWR3 contract, which marks the launch of the NH90 Block 1 upgrade, is a significant milestone for the NH90 program and is a clear sign that our NATO customers trust the NH90 and plan to operate it for many more decades."

 he added that airbus have a clear plan to extend the NH90's lifespan to 50 years, and we will need to modernize the aircraft to ensure it remains relevant on the battlefield of tomorrow.

The Block 1 program will cover the next ten to fifteen years. Beyond this horizon, we also anticipate the Block 2 upgrade, which will define future evolutions of the platform and ensure it continues to meet the needs of tomorrow's battlefield.

The first phase of this €600 million program includes an upgrade of the NH90 communication suite and the integration of Data Link 22, allowing interoperability beyond direct visibility without the use of satellite communications. IFF Mod 5 Level 2 (the latest version of the device used to identify and track military aircraft) will also be integrated. Other enhancements for operators will include the integration of a state-of-the-art electro-optical system, a new dipping sonar, and the integration of the MK 54 torpedo and the Marte ER anti-ship missile. The NH90 Block 1 will be capable of navigating with a civilian-grade Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) and a flight management system.

The second phase of the program, currently being finalized, will consist of deploying the Block 1 configuration improvements to about 200 NH90s, both NFH and TTH, in total.

NHIndustries is the largest helicopter joint venture and is responsible for the design, manufacture, and support of the NH90 helicopter, one of the leaders of the latest generation of military helicopters. The company leverages the best of the European rotary-wing and defense industry, being owned by Airbus Helicopters (62.5%), Leonardo (32%), and GKN Fokker (5.5%). Each company brings a long-standing experience in aerospace and contributes the best of its skills and expertise to the final product.

The NHIndustries NH90 is a European twin-turbine military maneuver and assault helicopter, assigned to military transport, in the 11-ton class. It was designed through cooperation between France, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands, joined after the launch of the first prototype in 2000 by Portugal, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and finally Belgium. It is produced by NHIndustries, a European joint venture that includes Airbus Helicopters, AgustaWestland and Fokker Technologies.

The NH90 is available in two main versions currently in service: the TTH (tactical transport) and the NFH (surface and anti-submarine warfare).

Since its service entry, the NH90 has faced several technical issues, which have delayed its deployment by some users. In 2022, Norway terminated the program and demanded a full refund, while Australia decided to withdraw it 10 years earlier than planned. This modernization is particularly awaited and crucial for restoring reliability to the aircraft.

In response to the escalating situation, Operation "Crabe" was launched between January 30 and February 8, 2024, deploying tracked vehicles HT 270 for the first time to combat illegal gold mining. Previously, the 3rd Foreign Infantry Regiment (3 REI) relied on Bandvagn 206 (BV 206) vehicles. The decision to integrate HT 270 vehicles, acquired through the Union of Public Procurement Groups and militarized by Technamm, reflects a strategic shift in tackling the challenge posed by illegal mining activities.

The HT 270, equipped with a 169hp diesel engine and capable of carrying up to 16 infantrymen, marks a significant upgrade in mobility and firepower. Its deployment during Operation "Crabe" underscores the military's commitment to adapt and utilize advanced technology to combat illicit activities effectively. With a maximum speed of 58 km/h and a mount for a 7.62mm MAG 58 machine gun, the HT 270 enhances the operational capabilities of the Armed Forces in confronting the complex and evolving threat posed by illegal gold mining.

Despite these efforts, the persistence of illegal mining activities fueled by high gold prices and transnational networks underscores the need for sustained and coordinated action to address the root causes of the issue and safeguard the environment and local economies in French Guyana.

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