DIMDEX 2024 – Qatar Emiri Air Force and Leonardo celebrate NH90 helicopter fleet’s 2,500 flight hours

Luca Peruzzi

The second day of the Doha International Maritime Defence Exhibition and Conference (DIMDEX 2024) saw the celebration of the 2,500 flight hours of the NH90 helicopter fleet by the Qatar Emiri Air Force (QEAF) and Leonardo. According to the company and the Armed Force representatives, this milestone has been made possible through the strategic cooperation, which has been aided by Leonardo’s direct involvement in providing training and supporting maintenance operations

The ceremony was celebrated at the presence of the QEAF Chief of Staff, Major General Jassim al-Mannai, and the President of Leonardo Stefano Pontecorvo, alongside some of the major supplier companies’ representatives involved into the programme, Domitilla Benigni, managing director and CEO of ELT Group, and Giovanni Soccodato, Executive Group Director Sales & Business Development e Managing Director of MBDA Italia.

With Leonardo as overall prime contractor, the Qatari NH90 programme includes the supply to the QEAF of 16 NH90 TTHs (Tactical Transport Helicopters) for land and 12 NH90 NFHs (Naval Frigate Helicopters) for maritime operations, the latter operating both from land and from the Al Zubarah-class corvettes, built by Fincantieri and already in service with the Qatar Emiri Naval Forces (QENF) together with the new LPD, currently under final outfitting by the Italian shipbuilder in Italy. This, alongside a training package for both flying and ground personnel, with the support of Italian MoD and Armed Forces, and a five-year maintenance and logistic support package running since the first delivery in December 2021.

As of today, the QEAF has received 18 helicopters out of the total of 28 rotary-wing platforms, including nine TTH helicopters built at the Marignane assembly line (Airbus Helicopters) and nine NFH helicopters (a tenth is nearing delivery) built at the Venice final assembly line (Leonardo). They have flown more than 2,500 hours with an average serviceability above 80%, thanks to Leonardo’s on-site support to the QEAF, including engineers, technicians, logistics specialists, and instructors. Helicopter deliveries will last until 2025.

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In addition to basic and operational training provided by Leonardo, Italian Army and Navy, both before and after entry-into-service of the first helicopters, the Qatari pilots have accumulated more than 1,700 hours on the two Full Flight Simulators (FFS) in naval and land versions, developed in collaboration with CAE and installed at the Training Centre located at Doha Air Base.

Both QEAF’s NH90 variants are equipped with the RTM322-01/9A engine version, which features a 7% power increase over the baseline RTM322-01/9, providing improved mission capabilities in “hot and high” conditions. The Qatari NFH variant features a rear ramp to facilitate cargo loading capabilities and to allow troops to quickly disembark, similarly to the TTH configuration.

The Qatari NFH also features a customized ASuW/ASW mission suite centred on up to two cabin operator consoles dedicated respectively to surface and underwater missions. These operators manage a comprehensive package of sensors and systems including the Leonardo 15” LEOSS-T HD EO/IR 4-axis gyro-stabilized turret capable to accommodate up to seven electro-optical sensors including a laser designator, the surface search radar with SAR/ISAR capabilities provided by European Naval Radar (ENR) joint-venture between Leonardo, Thales and Hensoldt, and the Elettronica ESM (electronic support measures) suite offering electronic self-protection and automatic surveillance capabilities, technical signal analysis and data collection for post-mission analysis, together with chaffs and flares dispensers.

The ASW suite includes Thales FLASH Sonics, including dipping sonar and sonobuoys managed by a common processing unit, and the dispensing system for sonobuoys provided by the Italian Company MES. The NFH90 avionic mission suite also includes an Automatic Identification System (AIS), a communications suite with data link, HD mission video recorder as well as an air-to-surface video link capability, which also operates between cooperating platforms.

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The Qatari NH90 naval variant is also equipped with an external payload transporting system on both sides of the helicopter; it is capable to accommodate both auxiliary fuel tanks and weaponry in mixed or asymmetric payload configurations. To equip the Qatari Emir Air Force NFH90s, the Qatari Emiri MoD has procured both MBDA Marte ER fire-and-forget anti-ship missiles with a range well beyond 100 km, also used for coastal batteries applications, and MU-90 lightweight torpedoes. The Leonardo LEOSS-T EO/IR system allows the use of laser-guided on-board weapon systems and targeting designation for third parties.

Photo by L. Peruzzi