Image above showing formation flight of 3 Sqn Iroquois along Timor Leste's coastline June/July 2001. The Iroquois will be replaced by the NH90 by the end of 2013.
The Iroquois has been in RNZAF service since 1966. As early as the 1980’s the RNZAF considered upgrade options for the Iroquois, but these were not pursued. During the late 1990’s the Air Force again considered options to improve the NZDF’s utility helicopter capability, either through upgrade or replacement. The key issues driving this consideration were:
- Airframe fatigue problems (including fin spars and rotor blades),
- Equipment obsolescence, and
- Limited performance in tropical conditions.
The Iroquois’ performance limitations during operations in East Timor between 1999 and 2002 reinforced the need for urgent action. The Defence Statement of May 2001 noted that the "Iroquois helicopter fleet will be upgraded or replaced". Extensive consultation led to the development of Force Development Proposal (FDP) that identified the requirement for a new capability to meet both military and whole of government needs. That FDP was accepted by Government, and the Iroquois replacement project was incorporated into the NZDF Long Term Development Plan (LTDP).
When the Sioux replacement project began work in parallel, it became clear that there were synergies between the two projects and the two were combined into an NZDF Helicopter Capability project. The Helicopter Capability project consulted widely to develop a ‘whole of government’ functional specification for the capability. From this capability specification, separate specifications for a Medium Utility helicopter (MUH) and a Training/Light Utility Helicopter (T/LUH) were identified.
Medium Utility Helicopter
An initial approach to industry was made in early 2004 which resulted in a number of aircraft being considered. Following a period of evaluation and due diligence, the Government announced on 31 March 2005 that the NH90 helicopter provided by NATO Helicopter Industries (NHI) was the preferred solution for the Medium Utility Helicopter requirement. A contract for the acquisition of eight operational NH90 helicopters, spares, logistics support and training was signed on 31 July 2006.
The Ministry of Defence acquisition division has a Resident Project Team based at Marignane, the Eurocopter (France) manufacturing plant for the NZ NH90s. This team is responsible for managing the ongoing acquisition project and maintaining oversight of the development and production.
The RNZAF has formed two teams to manage the Introduction Into Service (IIS) of the NH90. The Directorate of Logistic Capability includes a team of technical staff managing the through life support and logistics aspects of the NH90 introduction in to service, while a parallel IIS team manages the operational aspects. These teams are currently co-located in a programme office in Wellington, although the operational IIS team will shortly take up residence in a project office at RNZAF Ohakea.