All four of the new NH-90 helicopters will be grounded from next week. This is reported by VRT. The Caïman helicopters are due to take over from the former Sea Kings, in particular to carry out sea-rescue operations. However the helicopters could now be out of action for up to a year and a half as a fully operational fleet, owing to a defective radar.
The Ministry of Defence acquired the NH-90s in 2015. The helicopters cost some €35 million each. They were manufactured by a consortium of European military players, such as Airbus and Agusta-Westland. In 2019, the last three Sea Kings will finally retire after 40 years of service.
However the new aircraft are encountering significant problems. The Head of the Belgian Air Force, General Frederik Vansina indicated, “Upon delivery it was clear that something did not work smoothly.” Three of the four helicopters did not have a properly working radar as desired. Moreover the model appeared to have some early teething problems, and staff operating the aircraft have said that the radar was automatically shutting off.
The radar of three Caïmans must therefore be repaired by the manufacturer. Although initially anticipated to be a period of three to six months, this modification may however take more time. As indicated above, each helicopter may be out of service for up to a year and a half.
One of the helicopters is still operating today, but will be unavailable next week for maintenance reasons. On the current schedule, despite the possible anticipated 18-month period, the first of these Caïman helicopters is provisionally expected to be fixed during the spring. As a single helicopter is currently available, all four helicopter teams must operate flights in turn, so as not to lose their licences.
The problems on these Belgian Caïman helicopters also affect models ordered by other countries, such as the Netherlands and Germany.