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RNAF’s NH-90 helicopter fleet to undergo mid-life upgrades in 2028

By Peter ten Berg | March 19, 2024

Estimated reading time 3 minutes, 58 seconds.

The Royal Netherlands Air Force’s (RNAF) entire NH-90 helicopter fleet is scheduled to begin mid-life upgrades (MLU) in 2028, with the process anticipated to finish in 2032.

The Netherlands Ministry of Defence solidified the decision earlier this year, with State Secretary of Defence Christophe van der Maat stating that the upgrade is a necessary measure to ensure the NH-90 fleet can continue to carry out maritime operations for another 15 years.

Several of the NH-90 systems are from the 90s, with backdated components that need upgrades and/or replacement, he said. The MLU will also include new communication systems, an improved sonar system, and integration of the MK 54 torpedo to replace the current MK 46 torpedo, as well as an upgrade of the electromagnetic surveillance and collection systems.

An NH-90 maritime helicopter from 860 Naval Air Squadron of the Royal Netherlands Air Force maneuvering over water. Peter ten Berg Photo

The NH-90 fleet will also have its current Link 11 tactical datalink system replaced with the new Link 22 system, which is expected to provide additional functionalities and improved security. The upgrade allows the RNAF to follow in the same path as other NATO allies planning to embed the Link 22 into their assets. This will support the real-time exchange of collected data from NH-90 helicopters with other flying and sailing units.

The NH-90 is produced at NATO Helicopter Industries (NHI) where European users work together in the NATO Helicopter Management Agency (NAHEMA). The MLU agreement for the Netherlands’ maritime NH-90 will be in a partnership with co-users Belgium, Germany, and Italy. The €661.6 million (US$719.3 million) MLU project will also include a number of supporting systems, such as flight simulators, a mission planning and analysis system, and testing equipment.

A maritime NH-90 helicopter releasing a torpedo during training. Peter ten Berg Photo

The MLU will be conducted by 860 Squadron maintenance personnel and NHI staff, a source previously told Vertical. In the first phase of the project, NHI will provide a prototype that will represent the upgraded helicopter. The remaining helicopters are then expected to follow modernization starting in 2028.

The Netherlands has operated the maritime version of the NH-90 since 2010. The current fleet includes 19 helicopters that are in service within squadrons 7 and 860, part of the Dutch Helicopter Command (DHC) at Naval Air Station De Kooy. A single NH-90 was lost during an accident in the Caribbean in 2020.

The main role for the DHC NH-90 is as a maritime combat helicopter, often deployed at navy frigates. The machines are also used for transport duties and in amphibious operations.

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