The four new Defence NH-90 “Caiman” helicopters will be grounded next week, reports radio news channel VRT. The Caiman was supposed to take over from the old Sea Kings, especially to perform rescue operations at sea. But the aircraft could remain unavailable for a year and a half because of a defective radar.
The NH-90s were acquired in 2015 by Belgian Defence. The helicopters cost about 35 million euros each. They were assembled by a consortium of European military manufacturers like Airbus and Agusta-Westland.
In 2019, the last three Sea Kings will reach their final retirement after more than 40 years of service. The new helicopters, however, face significant problems. “Already on delivery, there was something wrong,” said Air Force Commander Major General Frederik Vansina.
Three of the four aircraft did not have the specified radar. The helicopters also appeared to have some early illnesses and, according to staff, the radar was shut down. The radar of those three Caiman must, therefore, be repaired by the manufacturer.
Initially planned for a period of three to six months, this update could, however, take longer. Each helicopter could be out of use for a year and a half. One of the helicopters is still operational today, but will also be unavailable next week due to scheduled maintenance.
The first repaired Caiman is expected for spring. As only one helicopter is available, all crews must take turns in succession so as not to lose their licences.
The problems identified with the Belgian Caiman also concern models ordered by other countries such as the Netherlands and Germany.
Minister of Defence Steve Vandeput says that rescue missions at sea are not compromised: they will be carried out by the old Sea Kings.
Source: Belga, VRT