NATO has taken another step towards filling its infmaous European tanker gap, with three more European countries looking to join the European program to acquire new refuelling aircraft. The program was started by the Netherlands and Luxembourg and should result in a shared fleet of up to eight additional tanker aircraft.
On Thursday 16 February, defense ministers from Belgium, Germany, and Norway signed a Declaration of Intent to join the creation of a European multinational fleet of Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) aircraft.
The Netherlands and Luxembourg launched this initiative in July 2016 and a first order was made for two MRTT aicraft, which are due to be delivered in 2020. The new agreement allows other partner countries to join the program with the provision to enlarge the fleet to up to eight aircraft. The aircraft should be stationed at Eindhoven airbase in the Netherlands.
The Germany government is planning to send four NH90s medium transport helicopters and four Tiger light attack helicopter to Mali. In the African country, the helos will be used for the UN’s MINUSMA peace keeping mission. They will replace Dutch CH-47D Chinook and AH-64D Apache helicopters.
If parliament in Berlin approves the proposal, the helicopters will head for Mali in the first half of this year. The NH90s will be used for transport tasks, including the evacuation of wounded personnel. The Tigers will be there to provide securty. Both the NH90 and Tiger were used in Afghanistan before by the Germans, who encountered difficulties in operating the NH90 in ‘hot and high’ conditions.
Apart from Afghanistan, the Tiger attack helicopter also saw earlier use in Libya, Somalia and Mali.
Germany is set to buy and operate four to six Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft in a joint effort with France, German reports say on Tuesday 4 October. Berlin with such a move clearly shows it doesn’t have much faith in the Airbus A400M, which is now being delivered to the German Luftwaffe at a painfully slow rate while also showing shortcomings for which Berlin seeks compensation.
The Hercules aircraft are to be delivered in 2021 and based in France, according to sources. They would be fitted especially for special operations and be able to operate from unpaved runways.
Signal If anything, the purchase is a clear signal to Airbus that the Germans are fed up with the A400M. Germany has 53 of the type on order but only saw delivery of a handful of aircraft as a result of production delays and operational limitations. Berlin now apparently think the A400M will never be the ‘tactical’ airlifter it thought it ordered.
The German Air Force will be operating the Boeing “CH-47GE” Chinook from 2020 and onward, as a replacement of its current Sikorsky CH-53G heavy-lift helicopter. Although no official plans have been announced yet, it is a likely scenario looking at the options the military decision makers in Berlin will have to weigh.
While Sikorsky/Lockheed Martin are currently putting the new CH-53K King Stallion through its testing face, the chances of this newer 33 ton rotary wing winning the replacement order for Germany’s current G-versions are getting slimmer. Berlin might very well go for the “CH-47GE” (German Edition) of the Boeing Chinook for three very good reasons.
With NATO allies
First, with 40 to 50 million a piece, the most modern Chinook will costs about half of the CH-53K, which has a base price tag of 93 million. Second Boeing is working hard to increase both lift and range of its CH-47 model. Third the interoperability with important NATO allies will improve big time, making even joint maintenance and further cost reduction possible. For example, the US Army’s 12th Combat Aviation Brigade in Germany flies the Chinook, as well as the Royal Netherlands Air Force’s support to 1 German Dutch Army Corps of 30,000 troops.
The new Chinook
Boeing plans to start testing its newest rotor blade later this year in Mesa, Arizona. Equipped with new honeycomb rotor blades, more powerful engines and other smart solutions like a new digital advanced flight-control system Boeing hopes to increase the maximum take-off weight of its most current CH-47F so the useful load will be almost 30,000 lb (13,600 kilograms). That’s 8,000 lb (3,600 kg) more than the projected Block 2 upgrade for the US Army. It puts the new Chinook on the map as air lifter for almost all smaller German Army equipment, all the way up to the Mowag Eagle IV and V wheeled vehicles of which the Bundeswehr has orderd 670.
Royal Canadian Air Force Extended Range
As for distance, the Royal Canadian Air Force already has good experiences with Extend Range fuel tanks on its 15 CH-147F Chinooks flying with 450 Tactical Helicopter Squadron out of Petawawa, Ontario. The choppers are able to operate on distances up to 595 nautical miles (1,100 km) from home before refueling is needed. The CH-53K can fly up to 460 nautical miles (852 km) without reserves, but the Sikorsky’s combat range is 90 nautical miles (almost 170 km) less than that of the base-model CH-47F.
Whatever the outcome of the debate to replace the current heavy-lift chopper of the German Armed Forces, the Boeing “CH-47GE” currently has the best cards on the table. Until the new rotary wing will arrive, the Luftwaffe will soldier on with its 40 recently modernized CH-53GA and its remaining 26 CH-53s of the older G/GS standard making up a fleet of 66 impressive machines.
Germany is seeking compensation for various issues and delays with its troubled Airbus A400M airlifters. Berlin also wants the aircraft manufacturer to come up with a plan to solve the issues, and meanwhile does not rule out the purchase of another transport aircraft to ensure operational capability.
The A400M has been causing head aches in Berlin since delivery of the first aircraft in late 2014. Since, only a handful of aircraft found their way to Germany. Negative headlines did find their way to German media however, quoting various technical and operational difficulties. Most recently, a fault in the engines sparked another run of headlines criticizing the A400M
The German struggle is remarkable, as other operators of the type seem to be just fine with the A400M. France, the UK, Turkey and Malaysia operate the type as well, and the first aircraft for Spain now nears delivery.
Airbus nevertheless acknownledges issues with the A400M, promising to tackle those issues.