Swedish Armed Forces Hkp 14 (NH-90) tactical transport helicopter during an air assault demonstration at the 2012 Swedish Military Airshow (Försvarsmaktens Huvudflygdag) at F3 Malmslätt, Linköping. Aircraft wearing number 43.

What is the worst European military helicopter program ever in delays, cost overruns, underperforming machines and crazy operating costs and maintenance, the NH90, gets another blow. After Norway announced it would kill the NH90 in its service, Sweden wants to do the same.

Featured photo: A pre-delivered HKP14 in 2012, when the Swedish Material Command still had to wait for many upgrades before it could become operational within the active armed forces

The manufacturer is threatening that the Swedish tax payer will face costs up to EUR 1.8 billion if it goes forward as planned.

Choosing European for its military purchases, Sweden ordered 18 NH90 helicopters in 2001 – nine to support the ground forces, another nine for anti-submarine and other naval duties. Named HKP14 (Helikopter 14) in Swedish service, the first (naval version) arrived in 2015, the last of 18 was handed over in 2019.

In 2001, the Swedish Air Force signed the purchase contract for 18 NH90 helicopters, classified as the HKP14, as well as seven on option, receiving the first ASW platform in 2015. The Swedish acquisition included nine in the land-based roles and the remaining nine in naval roles, receiving the eighteenth and final HKP14 in 2019.

Swedish Armed Forces Hkp 16 (Sikorsky UH-60M Blackhawk) tactical transport helicopter at the 2012 Swedish Military Airshow (Försvarsmaktens Huvudflygdag) at F3 Malmslätt, Linköping.
A Swedish Armed Forces HKP16 (Black Hawk) in 2012 at Malmslätt Airbase in Linköping

Already facing operational issues with its 9 remaining, aging Eurocopter Super Puma helicopters and the years delayed arrival of the NH90s, Sweden fast-tracked the purchase of 15 UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters from Boeing (Sikorsky). Battle-proven and known for its reliability all ordered were delivered between 2011 and 2013, quickly deployable under the designation HKP16 in Swedish Armed Forces service.

Air Force commander: “Not delivering what it should”

Where the UH-60M has given what was advertised, the NH90 did not. Swedish Air Force commander Major General Carl-Johan Edstrom already announced in summer last year a review was highly necessary as the HKP14 “is not delivering what it should”. After an internal review and feeling stronger after Norway’s decision to take the type out of service, Sweden is happy to order new American helicopters. This will likely be another 8 or 9 UH-60M Black Hawks to support ground forces, and 8 or 9 MH-60S Seahawks for naval duties – depending on the price as the Swedish crown has suffered quite a punch lately. The latter is more expensive, as it is equipped with extra electronics and could also be used to launch torpedoes.

Swedish Armed Forces Hkp 16 (Sikorsky UH-60M Blackhawk) no. 04 (serial 161229) and 01 plus Hkp 14 (NH-90) no. 45 tactical transport helicopters during an air assault demonstration at the 2012 Swedish Military Airshow (Försvarsmaktens Huvudflygdag) at F3 Malmslätt, Linköping.
The future as it will not be, if the Swedes pursue their plans. Here a HKP14, delivered in pre-liminary state without many features in 2012, shows off together with two Black Hawks. Photo taken at Malmslätt Airbase.

Costs per flight hour

While NH Industries, and their shareholders Airbus Helicopters (62.5%), Leonardo of Italy (32%) and Fokker Aerospace of the Netherlands (5.5%), are arguing a Swedish opt-out would be costly, once purchased the operational costs of the new Black Hawks will make up for a lot. According to reports, the HKP14 flies for no less than USD 30,000 to 40,000 an hour, while the US military says its basic UH-60s fly for as little as USD 3,200 per hour, and the Seahawk for about USD 15,000 per hour. These are numbers that make financial controllers quickly happy. | © 2023 Marcel Burger, nordicreporter.com (text and photos)