The Government has announced the purchase of eight new NH90 helicopters to replace the Air Force's fleet of ageing Iroquois.
Defence Minister Phil Goff today said the helicopters, which came at a cost of $771 million, would start arriving in New Zealand in 2010. The fleet would be fully in service by 2013.
Mr Goff said the NH90s were bigger, faster, more versatile and could travel further than the helicopters they were replacing.
A NH90 could carry 19 people rather than the Iroquois' eight, or 12 fully equipped troops rather than five.
They had a cruising speed of 260km/h, about a third faster than the Iroquois and could fly 800km rather than just 180km.
Its total lift capacity was four tonnes -- almost five times as much as the Iroquois.
Mr Goff said its long-range capability meant the NH90 would be able to "self-deploy" to Pacific disaster and trouble spots.
They were also capable of lifting army vehicles off a ship in situations where there were no port facilities.
"Militarily it is far more versatile in deploying soldiers into action and in dealing with complex counter-terrorism operations," he said.
"For civil disasters in New Zealand or elsewhere, such as floods, earthquakes, snow, cyclones or tsunamis, they can operate for extended periods and with large loads in all weathers, day and night, with significant flexibility.
Mr Goff said the European-made NH90 was "state of the art technology" and would be a cornerstone of defence force capability over the next 30 years.
The purchase represented a quantum leap forward over the Vietnam-era Iroquois.
Mr Goff said the NH90s were interoperable with the Australian Air Force, which was purchasing 46 NH90s.
The purchase is the last of the "core capability projects" on the Government's 10-year long-term development plan for the military.
Mr Goff said the cost of the purchase would be met within the $3.3 billion already committed to that plan.
The price of new helicopters was estimated at $560 million in 2002, but Mr Goff has denied the final price was a blowout.
More than a third of the price tag was for logistics and support including spare parts, project costs, training, software and equipment.