Not only did the Helikopter 14, or the NH-90 as it is called internationally, cost Sweden close to SEK 10 billion ($1.2 billion), but it has also proved itself very expensive to fly and maintain, which means that it is are unlikely to be used for transportation, its original purpose, the Swedish national broadcaster SVT reported.
A single flight hour cost of SEK 200,000 (nearly $25,000) makes the NH-90 nearly five times as expensive as the slightly smaller Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk, in Sweden known as the Helikopter 16, Swedish Radio pointed out.
Jonas Nellsjö, the chief of the Swedish helicopter fleet, attributed the difference in operational costs to the more advanced systems employed in the NH-90. He also pointed out a conspicuous lack of spare parts in sufficient quantity. Nellsjö also admitted that the Armed Forces would have made a different choice if the purchase were to be made today.
"I believe yes, it's expensive. But I fully respect those who were in charge of the procurement back then. They didn't have much to choose from," Nellsjö told SVT.
Helikopter 14 är en dyr historia för @Forsvarsmakten. Att flyga den i en timmes tid kostar 200 000 skattekronor. Motsvarande kostnad för helikopter 16, eller Black Hawk, är 40 000 kronor. https://t.co/TWmiYqkK8v pic.twitter.com/ZqeMf08jas— SR Ekot (@sr_ekot) 8 февраля 2018 г.
Christian Democrats defense spokesman Mikael Oscarsson, though, did not mince words about the procurement.
"Yes, it's a disaster story. It was delayed over ten years and now it costs so much an hour that you cannot afford it. You cannot have it like this," Oscarsson told SVT.
domestic commentator Mats Knutsson went so far as to call the NH-90 the "biggest procurement blunder in modern times," pointing out that the Swedish government erroneously prioritized a unified Nordic procurement of the NH-90 over the "more affordable" Black Hawk.
To cut their losses, Sweden's Defense Council has examined various savings options, such as reducing the usage rate. One of the ideas is to prioritize the use of those NH-90s equipped for sea missions, with their transport counterparts to stay grounded as much as possible. However, if all transport operations involving the NH-90 were to be shut down, Swedish defense would end up with trained helicopter crews out of work, which is seen as a big problem, Swedish Radio reported.
The NH-90 has been hailed as the world's first series-produced helicopter with a fully electronic control system, called Fly by wire. Unlike older, traditional helicopters with mechanical controls, this facilitated future updates.
In addition to Sweden, over 500 instances of the NH-90 have been ordered by a plethora of other countries, including neighboring Norway, where a fiery debate on the future of the purchase recently erupted. Over the years, the project has suffered massive delays affecting all shipments.
Additionally, Sweden had special requirements for the helicopter, mainly the height of the cabin being 24.5 centimeters higher than that of the standard NH90. Thus, a special variant was built for Sweden, in which no other country was interested, which also contributed to the delays.
Sweden's Defense Material Agency (FMV) signed a contract with the EU-based NATO Helicopter Industries (NHI) in 2001. Nine helicopters are aimed for the transportation of staff and rescue missions while the other nine are equipped for sea missions, such as submarine hunting, but have not yet been fully equipped. The first four helicopters arrived only in 2011, exactly a decade after the initial contract, and have since been used for education and training. Due to the delays, only five of the 18 helicopters are actually considered state-of-the-art today. The rest will be upgraded successively, SVT reported.