A NH90 TTH tactical helicopter of the Finnish Army Air Wing performing at the 2012 Swedish Military Airshow at Linköping-Malmen (Image © Marcel Burger)

Finland struggling to keep NH90s airborne

Finland is struggling to meet its operational requirements. The Finnish Army Air Wing has huge problems keeping its NHIndustries NH90s airborne, undermining both tasks at home as well as its air commitment to the European Union’s rapid reaction Nordic Battle Group.

The final of 20 ordered NH90 TTHs is expected to arrive soon at Utti Airbase to join 1.HK of Helikopteripataljoona (Army Air Wing) Lt. Col. Tuure Lehtoranta, told participants of the International Military Helicopter conference in Hotel Russell in London this week. But the Finnish Chief of Army Aviation also said that keeping the machines airborne is “a big challenge” and that the low availability of spare parts is “totally unacceptable” with up to 7 months of waiting time.

As a result the Finns are able to only field a maximum of eight machines, dropping to as low as three NH90s at times. That is already one machine short to the four Finland has committed as the medevac component to the Nordic Battle Group this year. The low number of operational NH90s leaves Finland with a number of Hughes 500D and 500E light utility choppers only, while just across the border Russia is building up an impressive fast helicopter force.

Personnel
Moreover, NH90 personnel are said to refuse being deployed unless the Army is willing to pay them additional bonuses, jeopardizing the Finnish contribution to the Nordic Battle Group 2015 even more. Finland cannot force its personnel on international operations. Deploying abroad is an individual and free choice of each and every man and woman in the military. Sweden had a similar rule, but changed it a couple of years ago forcing military personnel unwilling to sign the new directive to look for civilian jobs.

The Finnish Army deployed its NH90 to Keflavik for IAM 2014 (Image © Luftforsvaret / Forsvarets medisenter)
The Finnish Army deployed its NH90 to Keflavik for IAM 2014 (Image © Luftforsvaret / Forsvarets medisenter)

Impressed
With such problems it is almost a wonder that the Finns did manage to make 7,000 flight hours on the NH90 so far, making the nation one of the more experienced ones of the 13 countries that ordered the European co-production. The first Finnish NH90 arrived in March 2008 – to replace the Mil Mi-8s still in service. When airborne the NH90s are said to have impressed the Finnish military, giving the army’s top brass a valuable tool in transporting numerous of troops swiftly over distances of hundreds of miles.

Black Hawks
Meanwhile the Swedish Armed Forces – having their own problems with the NH90s – are quietly planning to hold additional Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawks in reserve for a possible Nordic Battle Group deployment. Sweden is the commanding nation of the NBG15 and three HKP 16s – as the Black Hawks are dubbed within Swedish service – already form the tactical Helicopter Unit of the rapid reaction force. Adding four more UH-60s should be relatively easy. Sweden operates a the total of 15 Black Hawks – initially as quick stop gap for the NH90 problems – and gained valuable experience flying the type in war situations from Mazar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan.

The result of the Finnish problems might be a full Swedish NBG15 Expeditionary Air Wing, with the Fighter Unit consisting of 8 SAAB JAS 39C/D Gripen fighters and the Air Transport Unit of 2 Lockheed TP 84s (C-130s). Meanwhile Finland will gain time to combat its NH90 operational availability at home.

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger

Want to know more? Check: SPECIAL: New Zealand – a NH90 success story
AND: AHF↑Inside Belgium’s Best – our exclusive visit to the Belgian NH90 unit at Beauvechain

Sweden was the first export customer for the UH-60M Black Hawk. Seen here in June 2012 during a tactical assault demonstration at F3 Linköping-Malmen AB (Image © Marcel Burger)
Sweden was the first export customer for the UH-60M Black Hawk. The chopper might be needed for the Medevac Unit of the Expeditionary Air Wing of the Nordic Battle Group 2015 if the Finnish NH90 problems continue (Image © Marcel Burger)
A NH90 TTH tactical helicopter of the Finnish Army Air Wing  performing at the 2012 Swedish Military Airshow at Linköping-Malmen (Image © Marcel Burger)
A NH90 TTH tactical helicopter of the Finnish Army Air Wing performing at the 2012 Swedish Military Airshow at Linköping-Malmen (Image © Marcel Burger)