The Spanish Army has sent its first NH90 helicopter to Mali as part of the European Union Training Mission (EUTM) in Mali.
Personnel from the Rotary Wing Force of the Spanish Army departed Spain on 21 June and subsequently arrived at Bamako airport to join EUTM Mali as members of the Intra-Theater Air Transport unit (ITAT), the Spanish Ministry of Defence said.
Brigadier General Fernando Luis GRACIA Herreiz, Commander of the Force of the European Union Training Mission (EUTM) in Mali, witnessed the arrival of the first NH90 in Bamako on 26 June. The rotary wing aircraft was partly disassembled and flown in by an Antonov An-124 aircraft. Two more NH90 helicopters will arrive shortly.
“Spain’s firm commitment to the mission has been demonstrated by the provision of a Commanding General to the Mission in the first semester of 2021. His leadership, devotion and commitment has undoubtedly boosted the effective deployment of the ITAT in Mali,” the EUTM said.
“In the context of Mandate 5 of EUTM Mali, approved by the European Union in April 2020, a decentralization of training activities to the Armed Forces of Mali was mentioned, as well as the expansion of the mission area to the other four countries of the G5 Sahel. To make this project possible, it was considered necessary to have an air transport unit at the disposal of EUTM Mali, in order to provide freedom of movement. Spain, committed to the stability of the Sahel, offered this rotary wing unit to the mission,” the Spanish defence ministry said.
The Intra-Theatre Air Transport (ITAT) structure, under the command of Commander Miguel Ángel Rodríguez Matías, is made up of 62 soldiers in the following sub-units: The flight unit, the maintenance unit, the supply unit, the transmission unit and the command unit. The unit has three NH90 helicopters.
Spain’s NH90 deployment to Mali is its first with the type. The NH90s operated by the BHELMA III (3rd Manoeuvre Helicopter Battalion) of the FAMET (Spanish Army Airmobile Force) will be tasked with providing tactical transport, support for special operations forces, combat recovery and combat search and rescue, electronic warfare, logistics support, medical evacuation operations and fire support with their two M3M MK3 12.7 mm machine guns.
Airbus Helicopters said the Spanish Army received its first NH90 tactical troop transport helicopters (TTH) in September 2016. Since then, a total of 14 NH90s have been delivered in the Standard 1 and 2 configurations. The Spanish Standard 2 configuration allows helicopters to exchange tactical information between aircraft and with ground stations via Data Link, which will improve the ability to direct operations in real time.
Spain will receive new helicopters in the Standard 3 configuration, which incorporates added improvements such as Mode 5 IFF capability and the DIRCM self-protection suite. In the future, all Standard 1 and 2 configurations of the Spanish NH90 will be upgraded to Standard 3.
The NH90 TTH also forms part of the Spanish Air Force fleet, following the recent incorporation of the first two helicopters for the 803rd Squadron of the 48th Wing, operating from the Cuatro Vientos Air Base in the province of Madrid. The Spanish Air Force will receive a total of six NH90 helicopters.
Airbus pointed out the NH90 offers cruise speeds of 150 knots compared to the 120 knots of the Super Puma with similar fuel consumption. This and other features, such as the electro-optical system, the double hoist, the TACAN, an improved electronic warfare system, the folding blades of both the tail and main rotor, the rear ramp and hatch and the integrated TopOwl helmet, ensure the NH90 can operate in any scenario required by the Spanish Air Force, as well as allowing interoperability with the Spanish Navy.