Sweden shall consider retirement of its NH90 fleet

At the beginning of November 2022, the Swedish Armed Forces Supreme Commander, General Michael Bydén, submitted his latest military recommendations to the Swedish government. As disclosed by the Swedish military authorities, the document includes the plan to decommission the existing fleet of NH90 rotorcraft.

The annual military advice of the Swedish Armed Forces Supreme Commander was outlined during the press conference held on 1st November 2022. This year´s recommendation was made with regards to the latest developments of global military and political situations, including war in Ukraine and other local tensions. The document was focused on showing the future of the Swedish armed forces that currently are on their path to increased capability and modernization. In addition, new responsibilities as a NATO member were also mentioned.

Among the abovementioned modernization plans, a proposal to retire the existing fleet of the NH90 helicopters was included.

The Swedish Air Force (Flygvapnet) is currently operating eighteen rotorcraft of the NH90 family. They are locally designated Helikopter 14 and their fleet is split in half between army (HKP 14E, an equivalent of the NH90 Tactical Transport Helicopter) and navy variants (HKP 14F, anti-submarine warfare and SAR).

Bydén´s recommendation examined current situation with the NH90 fleet, its performance and operational readiness. Then, the results were confronted with new challenges that emerged after joining the Alliance, such as increasing the capabilities of the land forces and enhanced anti-submarine warfare responsibility. Faced with the need to invest in significant modernization of the existing HKP 14F and HKP14E rotorcraft, the Supreme Commander advised to decommission them and replace the Swedish NH90 fleet by helicopters from UH-60M Black Hawk family.

The UH-60M is already included in the Swedish aircraft inventory. Fifteen rotorcraft of that type, designated Helikopter 16, are being operated by the armed forces since 2012. Therefore, resignation from the NH90 family would also mean unification of the country´s helicopter fleet.

Helikopter 14 during annual exercise ´Mountain Flight´ (Fjällflyg) in Abiskofjällen, 2018 (photo by Hampus Hagstedt/Försvarsmakten)

As a possible successor of the Helikopter 14F, the MH-60R Seahawk is often being mentioned, although the decision was not made yet. The document submitted by the Swedish Armed Forces Supreme Commander is just the recommendation and a vision for possible future developments. That military advise will now be a subject of evaluation by the Swedish government.

Although decisive, such a recommendation is not a surprise. Sweden ordered the NH90 helicopters back in 2001, with the aim to have them fully operational by 2008. Nevertheless, the country was faced with the same issues as majority of the NH Industries customers and first helicopters were received only in 2011. And it was exactly the delay with the NH90 delivery that forced Sweden to acquire the UH-60M.

It should be mentioned that, if Swedish government follows the recommendation, the country will follow the footsteps of Norway and Australia that also decided to retire their NH90 helicopters.

In June of 2022, the Norwegian Ministry of Defence announced the country is going to terminate the contract for NH90 rotorcraft with almost immediate effect. Even earlier, in December of 2021, Australia decided to retire its army variant and in May of next year the same decision was made regarding navy version. Both will be replaced by the UH-60M Black Hawk and MH-60R Seahawk, respectively.

Nevertheless, the Swedish farewell to the NH90 will not be so quick and dramatic. The retirement process is planned for approximately a decade. According to the Supreme Commander, the change should be made until 2035. At that time, the Swedish Air Force inventory should include at least nine anti-submarine warfare and twenty seven army support helicopters, other than the NH90 family.

Swedish helicopters and their crew must face the extreme weather conditions – annual exercise ´Mountain Flight´ (Fjällflyg) in Abiskofjällen, 2018 (photo by Hampus Hagstedt/Försvarsmakten)

Cover photo: Helikopter 14, by Hampus Hagstedt/Försvarsmakten. All photos © Swedish Armed Forces/Försvarsmakten, information from Swedish Ministry of Defence press materials were used.