Germany Chooses Chinook for Heavylifter Requirement

 - June 2, 2022, 5:27 AM
A company graphic depicts a CH-47F Block II in notional Luftwaffe colors. The German Chinooks will be equipped with a probe for refueling from KC-130J and A400M tankers. (Photo: Boeing)

The German government this week selected the Boeing CH-47F Block II Chinook over the Lockheed Martin/Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion to meet the country’s Schwerer Transporthubschrauber (STH, heavy transport helicopter) requirement. On June 1, defense minister Christine Lambrecht announced that 60 inflight-refuelable Chinooks will be bought to replace the 80 or so Sikorsky CH-53G heavylifters currently in use with the Luftwaffe (air force), with deliveries to begin in 2024/25.

A key factor in the decision was the CH-47’s widespread use throughout NATO, including with the U.S. Army. “With this model we are strengthening our ability to cooperate in Europe. It's modern, proven, and already in use by NATO partners,” said the defense ministry in a social media posting. The more expensive CH-53K has so far only gained orders from the U.S. Marine Corps and Israel, and only achieved initial operational capability with the Marines in late April.

Boeing partnered with Airbus Helicopters to bid for the STH requirement in March, and gathered together a team of German companies, including AERO-Bildung GmbH, CAE Elektronik GmbH, ESG Elektroniksystem- und Logistik-GmbH, Lufthansa Technik, Honeywell Aerospace and Rolls-Royce Deutschland.

The selection of the CH-47F is a major milestone in bringing the long-running STH program to a conclusive end. The requirement has been side-lined on several occasions, notably in September 2020 when it was shelved on cost grounds. It was relaunched in January 2021 as a U.S. Foreign Military Sales program. The acquisition, which is part of the government’s drive to inject more than €100 billion into the defense budget following Russia’s attempted invasion of Ukraine, has still to gain parliamentary approval.

Then-West Germany acquired 110 Sikorsky CH-53Gs between 1971 and 1975, preceded by two Sikorsky-built pre-production examples of the CH-53D-based version. The 110 service helicopters were built under license by VFW-Fokker at Speyer, and all were delivered to the Heeresflieger (army aviation). In the late 1990s, the fleet was upgraded by Eurocopter Germany with more powerful General Electric T64-GE-100 engines, and with some mission-specific equipment that led to the CH-53GA, GE, and GS sub-variants.

The type was used heavily during Germany’s involvement in UN/NATO operations in Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan, which accelerated the type’s increasing maintenance demands and decreasing availability. In 2013 the CH-53Gs were transferred to the Luftwaffe, which today operates them with Hubschraubergeschwader 64 at Holzdorf and Laupheim. The type is scheduled to be completely retired by 2030.