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Netherlands NH-90 helicopter crews prepare for amphibious missions

By Joe Campion | December 11, 2023

Estimated reading time 7 minutes, 42 seconds.

The Netherlands’ entire NH-90 fleet is scheduled to begin mid-life upgrades (MLU) in 2028, with the process scheduled to conclude in 2032. Joe Campion Photo

In early autumn 2023, two NH-90 naval frigate helicopters (NFHs) from 860 Air Squadron of the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNAF) completed a series of amphibious training exercises, operating from the Royal Navy Air Station Yeovilton in Somerset, U.K.

Starting Sept. 30 and continuing for two weeks, the aircraft participated in Exercise Guardian Defender, a series of multi-ship training missions in southwest England, to prepare for 860 Squadron’s takeover of amphibious operations from RNAF 300 Squadron.

After the transition, the NH-90 will be the main provider of amphibious missions from naval frigates in the Netherlands armed forces.

During the autumn training exercises, Dutch NH-90s interoperated with Leonardo AW159 Wildcat and AW101 Merlin Mk4 helicopters from Britain’s 847 Squadron and 845 Squadron. Joe Campion Photo

“The NH-90 and its crews are versatile and adapt quickly to changing environments,” said Jan Parlevliet, NH-90 amphibious program manager.

“The challenge to bring the NH-90 to a fully operational status in the next couple of years is demanding due to the new skills required, the development of new training programs, all whilst simultaneously maintaining the current prime focus of operating from frigates in the ASuW/ASW [anti-submarine warfare/anti-surface warfare] domain.”

During the autumn training exercises, Dutch NH-90s interoperated with Leonardo AW159 Wildcat and AW101 Merlin Mk4 helicopters from Britain’s 847 Squadron and 845 Squadron, both of which are stationed at Yeovilton. Fixed-wing aircraft, including Boeing F-15E Strike Eagle fighter jets, also participated in parts of the training exercises.

They were part of an ambitious effort to have the NH-90s capable for initial operations by Jan. 1, 2024 and fully operationally capable by Jan. 1, 2026. Amphibious missions involve at least two ships, moving troops from sea to land while under threat of attack from air and land.

During the autumn 2023 training exercises, NH-90s loaded with 10 troops in each aircraft departed the Yeovilton base. Joe Campion Photo

Most of these operations will be from landing platform dock vessels within the Royal Netherlands Navy, including Rotterdam Class ships. Each NH-90 will have a crew requirement of five, including a pilot in command, co-pilot, loadmaster and gunner.

To prepare for the transfer of service, members of 860 Squadron have completed extra training for flying in multi-ship formation and learning to deal with threats over land, among other capabilities.

This new role is the latest iteration of 860 Squadron, which has been compared to a Swiss Army knife due to its versatility. The unit is based at De Kooy maritime base, near the coastal city of Dan Helder, Netherlands and has operated the NH-90 NFH since 2010, replacing the Westland Lynx.

The Netherlands’ entire NH-90 fleet is scheduled to begin mid-life upgrades (MLU) in 2028, with the process scheduled to conclude in 2032. The MLU will be conducted by 860 Squadron maintenance personnel and NH Industries staff, a source told Vertical. NHI Industries is a French company established in 1992, wholly owned by Airbus Helicopters, Leonardo Helicopters and Fokker Aerostructures.

This new role is the latest iteration of 860 Squadron, which has been compared to a Swiss Army knife due to its versatility. Joe Campion Photo

“The timing of our aircrafts’ upgrade is working very well with training my personnel and helicopter availability,” said Cdr Maurice Van Mourik, commanding officer at 860 Squadron.

“Over the next two years, we are on track to have all the fleet up to contractual standards and the right amount of people to fly, operate and maintain the NH90 fleet to perform all of our tasks from DHC [the Netherlands Defence Helicopter Command].”

During the autumn 2023 training exercises, NH-90s loaded with 10 troops in each aircraft, along with Royal Navy Wildcats loaded with British Joint Air Traffic Controllers (JTACS), departed the Yeovilton base. The NH-90s flew at low altitudes — roughly 150 feet above ground level.

Each NH-90 will have a crew requirement of five, including a pilot in command, co-pilot, loadmaster and gunner. Joe Campion Photo

Meanwhile, the JTACS directed air support for the U.S. Air Force F-15E fighter jets to clear a simulated surface-to-air missile (SAM) threat. In this case, the simulated weapons were SA-27 Gollum and SA-8 Gecko missiles.

Once two F-15s cleared the simulated SAM threat, the NH-90s rolled in to drop the troops so they could disable an electronic warfare (EW) node. Then, one NH-90 was called back in to pick up a reconnaissance (recce) team and perform a casualty evacuation of an injured Marine before returning to RNAS Yeovilton.

“This training is also very rewarding, especially with exercises like Guardian Defender,” said Maj Jan Parlevliet. “We get to see how we can aid our ground troops in high-threat environments as a multi-role helicopter squadron, and I have no doubt 860 Squadron with the NH-90 will conquer the amphibious role.”

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