New helicopters come under fire

A military helicopter at the centre of a $770 million New Zealand Defence Force upgrade has come in for harsh criticism in a German Army report into its performance.

Both Defence Minister Wayne Mapp and his ministry were last night defending the Nato Helicopter Industry's NH90 multipurpose helicopter after the US-based weekly Defense News last week published a story quoting the report's findings.

The 103-page report claimed the helicopters, which the New Zealand Defence Force has ordered to replace its ageing Iroquois fleet, had an "extremely limited" capability and recommended the use of alternative aircraft "whenever possible in any operating scenario".

Dr Mapp said last night he had every confidence the NH90s would perform all the required military functions well.

"They will be a cornerstone of the Defence Force's capability in the future.

Like the navy's new patrol vessels, they will be used to support the work of many other agencies, such as the police and customs."

Germany has ordered 122 of the helicopters for the army and air force at a cost of about $9.1 billion.

However, testing of early models revealed several deficiencies.

The helicopter's other faults include a rear ramp unable to hold fully equipped personnel, a weak floor that can be cracked by heavy boots and a lack of clearance that could stop troops from easily getting in and out.

Troops disembarking could also be sitting ducks in a combat situation, as there is no room for a door-mounted defensive machine-gun.

The seats were considered capable of holding only those weighing less than 110kg, fully kitted out.

The German Army's latest issue of personal equipment weighed 25kg on its own, the weekly said.

The Government signed a deal in 2006 to purchase eight helicopters for a total cost of $772 million.

They will replace the 14-strong Iroquois fleet, some of which have already been mothballed.

The first of the French-made NH90s is due to be delivered for training, in France, in December.

All eight aircraft, plus one extra to be used for parts, should be handed over by April 2012.

Defence deputy secretary of acquisitions Des Ashton said last night the ministry was aware of the report, and many of the problems raised would be discussed with the Germans, the manufacturers, or other armed forces as the delivery date neared.

- David Eames, - The New Zealand Herald

The NH90
Manufacturer: Nato Helicopter Industries (France)Cost: About $96 million.
Max speed: 300kmh (164 knots).
Range: 780km.
Crew: Two pilots and one or two crewmen.
Capacity: 19 passengers.


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