Cover: Future collaboration opportunities for light and medium multirole helicopters in Europe

Future collaboration opportunities for light and medium multirole helicopters in Europe

Published Jul 19, 2019

by Marta Kepe, Richard Flint, Julia Muravska

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Research Questions

  1. What is the light and medium multirole helicopter demand landscape in Europe?
  2. What is the light and medium multirole helicopter supply landscape in Europe?
  3. What are the potential collaboration opportunities for the EDA pMS and partner countries throughout the helicopter life-cycle?
  4. What are the potential benefits and challenges and cost savings related to each of the identified collaboration opportunity?

Multirole helicopters are versatile air transport platforms that may perform a variety of functions. This versatility makes them an important military asset not only in out-of-area missions as well as for domestic operations. However, low readiness levels have been observed in Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), NATO and UN operations as well as for national commitments.

This study was carried out to identify potential multinational collaboration opportunities amongst the EDA (European Defence Agency) participating member states (pMS) and countries with administrative arrangements (AA countries countries) with the EDA in the area of light and medium multirole helicopters. The aim of the study was to identify potential collaboration opportunities throughout the equipment life-cycle based on an analysis of the current capability landscape and analyse the possible related costs, benefits and challenges for each of the opportunity.

The study supports the EDA's mission to promote multinational collaboration among European countries while developing defence capabilities.

Key Findings

EDA member states and AA countries hold a significant proportion of the global light and medium MRH fleets

EDA pMS and countries that have administrative agreements with the EDA (aka EDA partner countries) together own approximately 20 per cent of the global multirole helicopter (MRH) fleet and are the single largest collective owner of MRH fleets. While some European countries have significant fleets of 200-500 helicopters, most European countries have comparatively smaller fleets of 66 or fewer.

The European MRH landscape is fragmented and ageing, hindering both operational effectiveness and cost efficiency

The current MRH fleet landscape in Europe is highly fragmented, with thirty different types of platforms currently in use. Four MRH models are by far the most prevalent in European fleets: the US-made Bell 206 and Bell 212/412, the Airbus H215 Super Puma and the collaborative NHIndustries NH90.

Older aircraft face increasing challenges in terms of obsolescence, reliability, operational availability and effectiveness, and can be costly to maintain as they enter the latter stages of their life cycle. According to RAND Europe's analysis, some 33 per cent of the current MRH fleets included in the study were first introduced in the 1970s, 20 per cent in 1960s, 15 per cent in the 1990s, 13 per cent in the 1980s, and only 3 per cent in the 2010s.

The European MRH landscape offers opportunities for future multinational collaboration

Analysis of the current European MRH fleet landscape reveals a potentially promising base for future collaboration. Although European MRH fleets are currently highly fragmented and ageing, there is an ongoing trend towards rationalisation through a reduction of the number of platforms present in each member state. The overall age of MRH fleets is high, opening opportunities for cooperation in ongoing MRO as well as in fleet replacement, either through purchases of new off-the-shelf platforms (especially in light dual-use MRHs) or the development of a new medium military-specific MRH. Alongside interoperability, trust and operational drivers, the growing age of MRHs serves as an additional motivation for multinational collaboration, as maintenance costs may increase with time and countries are increasingly looking for opportunities to ensure more efficient and economical ways of maintaining their capabilities.

The return of a focus on defence and security in European policy in recent years, and the consequent interest in investing in military capabilities and increased defence budgets, may all lead to greater future activity in terms of the development of European MRH capabilities. Additional financial incentives may further encourage multinational collaboration through EU-level funding mechanisms, such as the European Defence Fund (EDF).

The European MRH industrial landscape is highly consolidated

The current European industrial landscape exhibits several characteristics that may encourage future multinational collaboration in MRHs: (1) the current R&D and production landscape is already consolidated around two major manufacturers; (2) the Europe-based suppliers of components and sub-systems also overlap, with the same component manufacturers often delivering to both original equipment manufacturers (OEMs); (3) recent successful European exports to the US illustrate the global competitiveness of European MRH designs, which serves as an encouraging basis for further focus specifically on MRH.

Political, operational and technical factors shape the logic for EDA pMS to collaborate

According to the RAND Europe study team's observations, based on interviews and a workshop with the EDA pMS, the main preconditions for multinational collaboration are seen to be political will, operational need, and 'ways of collaboration' or the presence of multinational collaboration programmes.

According to pMS, interest in cooperation may be boosted by such motivational factors as:

  • The ability to save money and increase the operational availability of MRHs by maintaining equipment in a more efficient manner.
  • The ability to promote 'strategic autonomy' in Europe and break away from dependence on the US in terms of the supply of air transport capabilities and their maintenance (i.e. spare parts).
  • The ability to decrease dependence on OEMs by increasing the negotiating leverage of multiple collaborative partners working together as a single customer.


The study identified and modelled four potential collaboration opportunities for European MRHs that could lead to cost savings and other benefits:

  • Model 1: Joint depot-level maintenance repair and overhaul (MRO)
  • Model 2: Joint off-the-shelf procurement
  • Model 3: Joint system upgrade
  • Model 4: Joint R&D of a military medium multirole helicopter

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was sponsored by the European Defence Agency and conducted by RAND Europe.

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