Dutch Defense Minister Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert informed parliament last week that the Netherlands will suspend the acquisition of NH90 helicopters until corrosion problems are solved. Corrosion is greater than expected in the two operational Dutch NH90s after they returned from counterpiracy and counternarcotics operations off the Somali coast and in the Caribbean, respectively, so the seven remaining helicopters will not be acquired for the time being, she wrote in a letter to parliament June 27.
The Dutch National Aerospace Laboratory found 92 corrosion occurences in the helicopters, which it attributes to a combination of design and assembly faults and the wrong choice of materials. In some cases, the corrosion was caused by combining materials without isolating them. The corrision is causing extra wear to moving parts. France is reported to be having similar problems with its NH90s, albeit on a smaller scale.
Last March, the Dutch Ministry of Defense informed NHIndustries (NHI) through the NATO Helicopter Management Agency (NAHEMO) about the problems. NHI immediately set up a task force to find solutions for the problems and has found technical solutions for around 60 per cent of them and expects to solve the rest by September, according to the ministry. In cooperation with NHI, the ministry is implementing an NHI corrosion prevention programme during regular maintenance of the helicopters.
Hennis estimates that the problems will delay the delivery of the NH90 by a further six months. This is causing a greater helicopter shortage and longer maintenance periods, resulting in fewer flying hours and in turn fewer trained crews and technicians, according to the ministry.
It is therefore expected that there will not be enough personnel to fully support maritime operations until 2019. Operations are not expected to be affected in 2014-2016, with an NH90 conducting counterpiracy missions and the basing of a Dutch Cougar in Curaçao to support the coast guard there, together with a US Coast Guard helicopter for at least 2014. The NH90 will be available for both missions in 2017 and Cougars will have to come out of the pool of helicopters for sale.
The Dutch Ministry of Defense is claiming the yet-to-be-determined extra costs for the maintenance and modification of NH90s from NHI and is examining whether to do the same for the Cougar helicopters, whose operations are covered by the defense budget until 2018.