BERLIN, Feb. 25 (UPI) -- The German armed forces are testing 13 new NH90 helicopters and they are not amused.
An internal military report, leaked to German mass daily Bild, blasted the many shortcomings of the multi-purpose helicopter developed and built by Eurocopter daughter NHIndustries. The 103-page report goes as far as recommending using alternative aircraft in operational scenarios.
Germany has ordered 122 NH90 for the army and the air force for around $6.2 billion but the testing of the pre-serial model revealed several deficiencies.
Clearance is so limited that soldiers have trouble getting in and out of the helicopter; the rear ramp is too weak to support fully equipped soldiers; the plane's floor is so sensitive that it can be cracked by boots; and the seats are unable to accommodate more than 240 pounds. The fact that modern infantry equipment weighs 55 pounds means that larger and more muscular soldiers will have to stay out.
The helicopters' limited interior space means that there is no room for a defensive machine gunner, a full infantry unit wearing their weapons and armor, and a combined troop and cargo load.
Officials from the German Defense Ministry said they informed Eurocopter about the deficiencies and asked the company to correct them.
Experts consider the trial-and-error flights a normal procedure for a product that needs to be tailored to the military's individual needs.
But the helicopter, for which planning dates to the 1980s, has a long history of problems.
The price for a single aircraft has tripled compared to initial estimates and the delivery date has been pushed back by three years to 2012.
The Germany navy had planned to order a variant of the helicopter, called MH90, but it hasn't placed an order because of delays and technical difficulties. The problem is that the German armed forces, and the four other partner nations -- France, Italy, the Netherlands and Portugal -- desperately need the new helicopter.
Twenty-three versions of the NH90 are in the making; first models are due to be delivered in 2012.
The delay and cost explosion of the NH90 puts the program in line with other European military projects gone wrong, including the missile defense system MEADS, the Eurofighter jet, and the Airbus A400M transport plane. In the case of the latter, partner nations and European Aeronautics Defense and Space on Thursday were nearing a final agreement over financing.
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