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Rising capacity: How New Zealand is ensuring optimal rotary-wing availability

The RNZAF's NH90 and A109 helicopters are seen above alongside the Beechcraft King Air 350 (KA350) and T-6C Texan II aircraft. Four KA350 are used for the Air Crew Training Capability and 11 T-6C are used in the RNZAF's ‘Wings' course. (NZDF)

Despite being a small military with limited resources, the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) fields a range of capabilities that match or even exceed those of larger countries. The NZDF's helicopter force is one example of the way in which a valuable rotary-wing capability is provided to meet the requirements of the Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN), Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF), New Zealand Army, and civilian government.

The NZDF's helicopter capabilities reside in the RNZAF's 3 Squadron (3SQN) based at RNZAF Base Ohakea, which operates five A109 Light Utility Helicopters (LUHs) and eight NH90 Tactical Transport Helicopters (TTHs), and the RNZN's 6 Squadron (6SQN) at RNZAF Base Auckland in Whenuapai, which flies eight SH-2G(I) Seasprite maritime helicopters. These units are expected to undertake roles that would usually be shared between various squadrons in a larger organisation.

3 Squadron lifts up

3SQN's NH90 helicopters provide the NZ Army with a battlefield support capability as its primary function. The NH90s were procured as part of the replacement helicopter capability project worth NZD771.7 million (USD489.9 million). A contract was signed with NATO Helicopters Industries (NH Industries) in July 2006, with the eight aircraft delivered during 2012–14 along with an additional ninth platform to be used for spares. The NH90s have been in operation since 2015 when they replaced 12 UH-1H Iroquois helicopters that had been in service for 40 years.

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