Helicopters

The Spanish NH90: ready for Mali

 

 

In September 2016 the Spanish Army received its first NH90 tactical troop transport helicopters (TTH). Since then, a total of 14 NH90s have been delivered in the Standard 1 and 2 configurations. Now that they are fully operational, these helicopters will be undertaking their first overseas deployment in the coming months to take part in the European Union Training Mission (EUTM) in Mali to support the Malian Army.

The NH90s operated by the BHELMA III (1) of the FAMET (2) will be tasked with providing tactical transport, support for special operations forces, combat recovery and combat SAR, electronic warfare, logistics support, medical evacuation operations and fire support with their two M3M MK3 12.7 mm machine guns.

Greater capacity for the FAMET

Brigadier Francisco Javier Marcos Izquierdo, Commander of the FAMET, had the following to say regarding the incorporation of the NH90: “The improvements offered by this latest-generation helicopter (enhanced speed, range and navigation, all-weather capacity, more secure communications, greater load capacity at high altitude and in hot conditions, etc.) enhance our effectiveness when carrying out missions such as tactical transport, aerial assaults and other special operations in the most demanding conditions.”

Over the last five years, the main focus has been on completing the training of pilots, specialists and on-board operators. More than 6,000 flight hours have been devoted to these tasks, while maintaining operational availability levels comparable to those of other fleets using this model. New mission systems have been progressively incorporated to optimise its features (ballistics protection, roller loading system, 12.7 mm machine guns, electronic warfare system, rappel and fast rope systems and a cargo hook). Meanwhile, the Standard 2 configuration of the Spanish NH90 includes new equipment such as the ultra-long-range electrooptical/ infra-red system, the IRIDIUM satellite telephone and a double rescue hoist.

The Spanish Standard 2 configuration allows helicopters to exchange tactical information between aircraft and with ground stations via Data Link, which will improve the ability to direct operations in real time.

First overseas deployment

“We will receive new helicopters in the Standard 3 configuration for the Spanish NH90, which incorporates added improvements such as Mode 5 IFF capability and the DIRCM self-protection suite. In the future, all Standard 1 and 2 configurations of the Spanish NH90 will be upgraded to Standard 3,” the Brigadier explained.

In relation to its first overseas deployment, the Commander of the FAMET said: “In recent months we’ve been preparing a contingent of NH90 helicopters to take part in the European Union Training Mission in Mali. This tactical group will carry out support missions for decentralised training activities by EUTM Mali on the bases of the Malian Armed Forces (FAMa).”

Six NH90s for the Spanish Air Force

The NH90 TTH also forms part of the Spanish Air Force fleet now, following the recent incorporation of the first two helicopters for the 803rd Squadron of the 48th Wing, operating from the Cuatro Vientos Air Base in the province of Madrid. The Spanish Air Force will receive a total of six NH90 helicopters.

“The arrival of the NH90 for the 48th Wing represents an important milestone for the 803rd Squadron,” said Colonel Gonzalo Martí Regalado, Commander of the 48th Wing. “The unit has progressed from operating a second-generation helicopter (the Super Puma) to a fourth-generation helicopter, with all the improvements and changes to operations this implies. As well as being much lighter and sturdier due to the use of carbon fibre and fibreglass in its construction, it’s also equipped with fly-by-wire controls, which considerably improves the piloting experience.

There can be no doubt that the squadron will significantly enhance its operational capabilities now. The NH90 is an all-weather helicopter capable of operating in adverse meteorological conditions, with integrated equipment such as a complete de-icing system (main rotor, tail rotor, horizontal stabiliser, windscreen and engines), FLIR thermal imaging, a weather radar and a greatly improved navigation system which allows take-off and landing in very low ceiling and visibility conditions.”

Improved operational capacity

The 4-axis autopilot also provides invaluable assistance for pilots in critical situations, allowing manoeuvres which were previously restricted or very difficult to execute. Furthermore, the NH90’s power plant expands the operational envelope beyond that of the Super Puma. It offers cruise speeds of 150 knots compared to the 120 knots of the Super Puma with similar consumption, which reduces the time needed for missions and expands its radius of action. This and other features, such as the electro-optical system, the double hoist, the TACAN, an improved electronic warfare system, the folding blades of both the tail and main rotor, the rear ramp and hatch and the integrated TopOwl helmet, ensure the NH90 can operate in any scenario required by the Spanish Air Force, as well as allowing interoperability with the Spanish Navy.

“The incorporation of the NH90 by the Spanish Air Force constitutes a major leap forward in terms of mission planning and execution. Its fully digital cockpit provides pilots with all the information they need, while the automatic mission planning system facilitates preparation of ground missions, easing pilot workloads by transferring information directly to the helicopter’s systems. The 48th Wing is therefore very keen to get started with the NH90. While we’re fully aware of the effort required to implement a new weapons system, we also know it will be more than worthwhile due to the enhancement of the 803rd Squadron’s operational capacity for the execution of its key roles (personnel recovery, special aerial operations and SAR/MEDEVAC missions),” summed up Colonel Gonzalo Martí.

 

1- BHELMA III: 3rd Manoeuvre Helicopter Battalion.

2- FAMET: the Spanish Army Airmobile Force.