Air Transportation: AirBus Busted In Oz

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October 27, 2021: The Australian Navy is buying six more American MH-60R ASW (anti-submarine warfare) helicopters to replace six Airbus MRH-90 helicopters currently used. The new MH-60Rs will also expand the navy helicopter force, which currently consists of 23 MH-60Rs, out of 24 received between 2013 and 2016. Australia has an option to buy six more MH-60Rs.

The MH-60R and MRH90 are similar in capabilities but the MRH90 costs about 20 percent more. MH-60R entered service in 1985 and about a thousand have been built or are on order so far. MH-60R is considered more reliable than the MRH90, which entered service in 2007 and had a lot of equipment and reliability problems, some of them still unresolved. Despite that 450 have been built so far.

In 2010 Australia received eight of the 50 NH90 helicopters it ordered, and was not happy with the aircraft's performance. Called the MRH90 in Australian service, the experience was like what the Germans and other customers encountered with their NH90s.

The overall complaint is poor reliability, design, and durability. Many more spare parts must be stocked than was originally planned. There have been long waits to get needed spares from the manufacturer NHIndustries, which is a French division Airbus that develops and produces military helicopters.

The German Army conducted an evaluation of their new NH-90 helicopters, and were not pleased. Their conclusion was that, for combat missions, another model helicopter should be used whenever possible. A particular problem was the lack of ground clearance. The NH-90 can't land on a piece of ground with any obstacles higher than 16 cm (6.4 inches). That makes many battlefield landing zones problematic. That assumes you can even get on a NH-90 and find a seat. The passenger seats cannot hold more than 110 kg (242 pounds). Combat equipment for German troops weighs 25 kg (55 pounds), meaning any soldier weighing more than 85 kg (187 pounds) must take stuff off, put it on the floor, then quickly put it back on before exiting. Then there's the floor, it's not very sturdy, and combat troops using the helicopter for a short while, cause damage that takes the helicopter out of action for repairs. Worse, there is the rear ramp. It cannot support troops carrying all their equipment, making it useless for rapid exits of combat troops. There is not enough room in the passenger compartment for door gunners. There are no strap downs for larger weapons, like portable rocket launchers or anti-aircraft missiles. The passenger compartment also does not allow for carrying cargo and passengers at the same time. The winch is not sturdy enough for commandos to perform fast roping operations. And so on. The Germans were not pleased with the NH-90.

Germany was one of the first customers for the NH-90s and plans to procure 122. It may take until 2030 to complete that purchase. The ten-ton NH-90 can carry 21 troops or twelve casualties on stretchers, plus the crew of two. It first flew in 1995.

Europe already has several veteran helicopter manufacturers, as does the United States. Airbus wants to be competitive across a wide range of aircraft and has found that experience is more expensive, time-consuming than expected. Their misadventures in Oz (Australia) are another example.

 


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