Airbus keen to play key role in ‘European answer’ to new NATO rotorcraft program

AvatarBy Oliver Johnson | November 23, 2020

Estimated reading time 4 minutes, 10 seconds.

Airbus Helicopters CEO Bruno Even says the OEM “should play a key role” in a recently-announced program to develop Next-Generation Rotorcraft Capabilities signed by five NATO member countries.

The German army currently has 74 NH90 TTH helicopters, while the German navy will start to receive its 18 helicopters in October 2019. Christian Keller Photo
The NH90 was developed in multi-company response to a NATO requirement for a medium multi-role helicopter. Christian Keller Photo

France, Germany, Greece, Italy and the United Kingdom announced the launch of the program on Nov. 19.

One of NATO’s “high visibility projects,” it seeks to develop a replacement for medium multirole helicopters currently in operation that are expected to reach the end of their lifecycle around 2035 to 2040.

“I’m convinced that there should be a European answer,” Even told journalists during a recent conference call. “I’m convinced that we have the competencies, the capability in Europe, to answer to the requirement and the need of our European customers.”

The program echoes the origin of the NHIndustries NH90, which was developed collaboratively by Airbus Helicopters, Leonardo Helicopters, and Fokker Aerostructures in response to a NATO requirement for a medium multi-role helicopter.

“We like to come at open level, which means that as we did with NH90, Airbus Helicopters should play a key role, but should also be ready to partner, and to cooperate for such a future European program,” said Even.

“I think it’s fair to consider that there should be a European answer, not only because we have the competence and the capability . . . but it’s also a question of [the] strategic autonomy of Europe.”

Over 420 NH90s have been delivered to 18 customers in 13 countries — including France, Germany, Greece and Italy.

However, Even said he did not see the newly-announced program necessarily providing a replacement to the NH90 itself.

“The need could be also to complement some of the [customer fleets’] existing capability — the NH90, Tiger and so on — which will continue to fly through 2040/2050,” he said. “The need could be to complement these platforms/programs with a new type of architecture in order to bring a new capability, either in terms of autonomy, connectivity, speed, [or] range.”

Experts from the five participant nations are to meet to define a statements of requirements and a multi-phase cooperation plan, beginning a multi-year program of work.

“I think it’s good to see that reflection not only for short- or medium-, but also for long-term requirements,” said Even.

“As an industry, you need this long-term view on the evolution of the requirement in order to have time not only to mature technologies, but also to mature [the] architecture, and to be in position to launch the program when the need will be there.”

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