Anti-Submarine Warfare

In a time of intense political turmoil for the European Union, on 8 December 2011 in Brittany, at the Lanvéoc-Poulmic Naval Air Station, the French Navy commissioned its first naval air squadron of brand-new NH90 naval frigate helicopters (NFH) . This is in the form of the revived Flottille 33F, an Aéronavale squadron previously flying the veteran Sud-Aviation SA321G Super Frelon, today no longer in service in France.

16th Jan 2012

Anti-Submarine Warfare

 France’s Navy commissions first NH90 squadron

Byline : Jean-Michel Guhl / Lanvéoc Naval Air Station, France

In a time of intense political turmoil for the European Union, on 8 December 2011 in Brittany, at the Lanvéoc-Poulmic Naval Air Station, the French Navy commissioned its first naval air squadron of brand-new NH90 naval frigate helicopters (NFH) . This is in the form of the revived Flottille 33F, an Aéronavale squadron previously flying the veteran Sud-Aviation SA321G Super Frelon, today no longer in service in France.

In drizzling rain, under low ceiling skies swept by the ceaseless wind so usual for this maritime province of France where the occidental end of the Gallic land wed with the Atlantic Ocean, Admiral Bernard Rogel, the Chief of Staff of the Marine Nationale, handed the command of the revived squadron to Capitaine de Frégate (Commander) Nicolas Couder. He is the man responsible for the buildup of the initial “NFH” component of the French Navy over the coming years.

A total of 27 NH90 NFHs are today on order to equip two ship-borne ASW squadrons of the French Navy, both scheduled to be deployed on the two Horizon and the first of eleven planned FREMM frigates of the Marine Nationale. To date, five NH90s have been delivered to Flottille 33F with two more slated for next year, enough to allow Flottille 33F to prepare for a sound operational start next year and until the squadron gets its full fleet of nine NFHs in 2013. The rest will be delivered at the rate of two to three machines annually through to 2020 and contribute to the reequipment of Flottille 31F with twelve NH90 in Hyères near Toulon - the largest naval base of France’s Navy on the Mediterranean Sea. Eventually, one of these NFHs will be detached to Cherbourg, on the Channel for Search and Rescue (SAR) operations. In the meantime, the first NH90s of Flottille 33F are being used to back the two EC225s of Flottille 32F at Lanvéoc-Poulmic in their permanent long-range SAR alert pool on the west coast of France and in the Channel. In France, the helicopter crews of the Aéronautique navale based at Lanvéoc-Poulmic have saved so many lives out in the Atlantic Ocean over the past half-century that they are highly respected for their dedication and courage.

A modern medium-size 11-tonne military helicopter with a wide, diamond shaped cabin for low radar signature, the NH90 — dubbed Caïman in French service — symbolizes without any doubt the best of the European aerospace and defence industry. It is by far the most successful multinational rotorcraft programme ever conducted on the Old Continent. The glaring evidence : it involves five European launch nations (France, Germany, Italy, Holland and Portugal) and has been selected by six others : Belgium, Finland, Greece, Norway, Sweden and Spain. Eleven European nations altogether; something never seen before ! And to make it an authentic European common endeavour even more : Great-Britain is not part of it ! Meanwhile building on a large European appraisal, the NH90 has been exported to Australia, New Zealand and the Sultanate of Oman, securing in total more than 500 NH90 sales plus almost 200 additional options. Quite a nice result indeed for the European helicopter industry and for Agusta, Eurocopter and Stork-Fokker, the three industrial partners of the NH90 programme garnered within NH Industries - the joint company responsible for the marketing and sales of the NH90 helicopter.

France as a key partner of the NH90 programme

For Ingénieur en Chef de l’Armement Arvind Badrinath, the NH90 Programme Manager at the French Defence Procurement Agency (DGA), the coming of the NH90 is a real step forward for the French Navy, just as it will be soon for the French Land forces. They are set to receive their first NH90 TTH on 22 December 2011 in Valence and five more next year in Le Luc where the joint NH90 training centre (CFIA NH90) will be based.

Technologically very advanced, the NH90 is a pure military helicopter designed from the start to meet a common NATO staff requirement. It enjoys an unusually extended lifespan of 10,000 flight hours before overhaul thanks to its all composite airframe — a true novelty also found on the EC665 Tiger — which also helps reduce the number of parts and the weight of the structure whilst increasing the strength (crash resistance), the fatigue life (tolerance to vibration) and resistance to corrosion (a key issue at sea) and battle damage.

Furthermore this rotorcraft, which is the only serial helicopter in the world to use full fly-by-wire controls with quadruplex redundancy, is packed with the latest technology available to increase capability, reduce workload for the crew, and simplify through life maintenance. Supplied by Goodrich and Liebherr Aerospace in the USA, the all electric flight controls of the NH90 have a full authority quadruplex system which increases the manoeuvrability of the aircraft all the while decreasing its empty weight to make the rotorcraft more agile. On top of that, with electric flight controls, maintenance and inspection requirements are greatly reduced compared to those of a conventional control system, like on a large majority of today’s rotorcraft. Let’s recall that in 2003, the NH90 became the first medium-sized transport helicopter to fly with full « fly-by-wire » controls. It also uses foldable composite rotor blades which increase the fatigue strength as well as component life while enabling improved aerodynamic performance whilst reducing maintenance on the long run and tolerance to damage. Cherry on the cake, the main gear box system has a 30 minute “run dry” capability, well suite to a military rotorcraft.

The Aéronavale’s NFHs are being supplied directly from the Agusta production plant in two different configurations : 13 ‘ASF’ for SAR and sea assault, with a rear loading ramp for light vehicles and bulky cargo, and 14 ‘ASM’ for pure ASW operations, without that ramp. However the cabin of all 27 NFHs is able to be fitted at all time with the specific pallet-mounted ASW kit comprising an avionics bay, a sensor operator station and tactical coordinator station, plus a dipping sonar and a sonobuoy launcher. A magnetic anomaly detector (MAD), concealed in the helicopter’s trapezoidal tail boom, completes the ASW suite for the detection and identification of underwater targets.

Besides a complete IFF system, the NFH has a comprehensive communications suite (internal and external) for tactical communications, and a navigation suite including GPS, INS, Doppler, air data and a digital map generator.
The new helicopter has a reduced crew of three : thanks to the inclusion of a 4-axis autopilot only one pilot is required, seated on the right hand side of the cockpit, plus a Tacco (the tactical coordinator responsible for mission management) seated on the left side, and a Senso (sensor systems operator) in the cabin who doubles as the loadmaster and winch operator. All French models benefit from an L11 tactical data link - which provides extended on-board data fusion and total networking with a NATO task force at sea, something never seen before in an Aéronavale rotorcraft. The sound man-machine interface of the NH90 and the use of data fusion, increases the speed, accuracy and the quantity of data that can be processed .

The NH90 NFH extended avionics system, built around five large liquid crystal digital screens, is supplied by Thales Avionics and is based on a dual MIL-STD-1553B digital databus. The French NFH model is fitted with two radar sets : a Thales ENR 360° surveillance and surface detection radar mounted under the forward part of the belly and a Honeywell Primus 701A weather radar installed in the nose just over the forward-looking IR ball. The ENR or ‘European navy radar’ is derived from the Thales Ocean Master and has been developed in conjunction with EADS and Galileo Avionica. It is a low-volume, lightweight (85kg) system used to monitor surface ships, detect submarine periscopes, track their movements and accurately classify all the detected vessels. This digital radar has been designed to operate in dense electromagnetic environments, under all weather conditions and high sea states.

It can track up to 200 targets simultaneously.

The Primus 701A Search and Rescue Weather Radar has surveillance and search modes integrated with colour weather radar. It has reduced EMI emissions and susceptibility and improved blanking outputs. Main features include: SAR with sea-clutter reduction, 10 kW of transmitter power, minimum detection range as low as 450 ft, Doppler turbulence detection, display range as close as 1/2 nm and pulse widths as low as 100 nsec.

For all-weather and night operations, all 27 French naval machines are equipped with the 45kg Sagem Euroflir 410 tactical forward-looking infrared (FLIR) system mounted in the nose below the weather radar.

Other main sensors, directly related to the NH90 NFH principal ASW mission — and which will only be included with the Standard 2 variant to be fielded in mid 2012 in France, (starting with aircraft number 8) —. the French Navy NFH will be fitted with the Flash Sonics sonar system from Thales Underwater Systems, which combines the Flash active dipping sonar with the TMS 2000 sonobuoy processing system. By that time, all Standard 2 NFHs will be able to carry a pair of MU90 torpedoes or two 250kg drop tanks providing an extra hour of flight. Later Standard 3 variants will add the MBDA ANL-FASGW light anti-ship missile now under development. Up to four will be carried at one time.

To move all this armament at sea, the NH90 NFH is gifted with a powerful pair of engines with dual channel FADEC (Full Authority Digital Electronic Control) system in the form of two Rolls Royce Turbomeca RTM 322-01/9 turbines delivering a maximum power output of 2,270 shp (1,693 kW). These modern 4-stage turbines — identical to those of the EC665 Tiger or the Westland AH-64D Apache — provide enough thrust to meet the needs of naval users and propel the 11 tonnes of the NH90 at a cruise speed of 300 km/h or 162 nautical miles per hour.


APDR at a glance