The air assets of the German Armed Forces are in a even more deplorable state that before, and is becoming worse and worse. Helicopters, transport aircraft and combat jets are spending so much time on the ground that it hurts the defence capabilities of one of Europe’s biggest countries way too much. Many aircraft are not available for any duties they are so needed for, at home or with the 13 deployments abroad, including the “flashy” new Airbus A400Ms.
“The German airlift capabilities have become so weak that days of delays and cancellations of (planned) flights into and from areas of deployment are almost a normality,” Bartels says. “The status of materiel is equally bad and in many occasions even worse than during my first inspection visit in 2015. At the end of last year not a single of the 14 newly commissioned A400M transport aircraft was available. Eurofighter, Tornado, Transall, CH-53, Tiger, NH90 … the flying units rightfully complain they fail in having the appropriate flight hours for their crews because too many machines too many days a year are not ready to fly.”
Even the operation platforms of the German Navy helicopter fleet of Westland Sea Lynxes and in the future NH90 Sea Lion are far less than the German Ministry of Defence has promised to be available. Of the planned 15 frigates only 9 are in use and even they are often not able to sail with longer maintenance times in the shipyard for the aging vessels. Of the 220,000 job positions in the German Armed Forces, a massive 21,000 are vacant. Many troops lack winter uniforms or flack jackets.
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.
Airbus Helicopters on Friday 29 April handed over the first two H145M multi role helicopters to the Royal Thai Navy. The helicopters – five in total – will enter service in Thailand at the end of 2016 following initial pilot training Germany. The Royal Thai Army has also ordered the type.
The H145M is the military version of the civil H145 and an be used for a wide range of military operations including naval, utility, reconnaissance, search and rescue, medical evacuation and armed scout. The Royal Thai Navy helos are equipped with Multi-Purpose Pylons incl. aerodynamic fairings, cargo hooks, hoists, HF system for SAR operations, weather radar, internal long range fuel tank system and fixed provisions for future special operations upgrade.
Thailand was the second nation to order the H145M, following in the footsteps of Germany. The German Special Forces will receive 15 of these helicopters in a custom configuration.
The two H145M helicopters now delivered to Thailand, will stay in Germany for pilot training at Airbus Helicopters’ Training Academy. A third helicopter will b delivered soon. All helicopters are scheduled for delivery in Thailand by September this year.
Where’s a gas station when you need it? That’s exactly what’s going in the minds of a Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) KDC-10 crew as they look for the French C-135 Stratotanker that should be flying somewhere ahead of them. Seconds later, they find the French aircraft and move in closer. It’s an obvious metaphor for closing the infamous European tanker gap. The solution comes in two shapes: the Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) and the Airbus A400M.
Over the North Sea and to the crew of the KDC-10, that’s all distant music. As participants in the European Air Refuelling Training (EART) at Eindhoven airbase in the Netherlands, they have just finished air-to-air refuelling (AAR) twelve F-16s that take part in action packed exercise Frisian Flag 2016. Somewhere ahead and beneath them, the French KC-135 also just finished refuelling fighter jets, as did the German Airbus A310 that’s also nearby.
That’s three air-to-air refuellers in the same patch of sky, a sight not often seen as tanker aircraft are usually hard to find in Europe. The overall goal of EART is to improve flexability, efficiency and effectiveness of the combined tanker force of all zeven nations (the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, France, Spain and Italy) that handed command over their assets over to the European Air Transport Command (EATC). From Eindhoven airbase in the Netherlands, EATC commands 19 tanker aircraft of various types from all seven nations. That number equals 65 percent of all AAR platforms available in Europe.
Compared to the hundreds of air refuelling aircraft available to the US, the European numbers fall far short, hence the ‘tanker gap’. However, that gap may soon be a thing of the past, given the increasing number of Airbus A400M available to France and Germany, plus Spain and Belgium in the near future. By 2025, EATC should have 80 or so A400Ms at its disposal, with roughly 40 air refuelling kits available for those aircraft. The new Airbus aircraft has been involved in AAR tests.
Moreover, the Netherlands, Norway, Luxembourg and Poland are on course to jointly buy and operate the Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT). During EART, it emerged that a Memorandum of Understanding is to be signed during the NATO summit in July in Warsaw, with a contract for three or four aircraft to be signed that same month during the Farnborough Airshow.
The shared pool should grow to eight Airbus A330 MRTTs eventually. Belgium, Germany and Spain have already expressed interest in particpating in the program as well.
“EATC has been asked to harmonize A400M and A330 MRTT operations in the future”, says Colonel Jurgen van der Biezen, a RNLAF-delegate to the joint European command in Eindhoven. “What we are looking for, is an air-to-air refuelling hub that is very similar in operation to the European Heavy Airlift Wing operating from Hungary.”
Introducing the A400M and A330 MRTT as tankers increases EATC’s refuelling fleet to 69 assets, equal to 82 percent of all similar capacity in Europe. It’s a signifant increase compared to today’s situation, an increase that enables European nations to support their own – plus each other’s – operations.
It’s an idea that gets the thumbs up from all within EATC, just like the thumbs up shown by the crew of a Dutch KDC-10 tanker over the North Sea. They successfully performed some formation flying with the other two tankers in the same patch of sky. After leaving the formation, they are on their own again. But with a different feeling this time. There are others out there.