Germany will move ahead with the acquisition of Boeing’s CH-47 Chinook to meet the Bundeswehr’s (German military) long-standing heavy-lift transport helicopter requirement.
The selection of the Chinook was announced by Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht to German lawmakers on June 1, with the legislative sign-off on the prospective purchase the remaining hurdle due to the mandate that any project costing at least EUR25 million be subject to a separate approval by the Budget Committee of the Bundestag (federal parliament).
— Christian Thiels (@ThielsChristian) June 1, 2022
The CH-47F Block 2 “Standard Range” variant of the Chinook beat out a bid by Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky, which offered up its CH-53K King Stallion as a replacement for the Bundeswehr’s aging legacy fleet of CH-53G Stallions that were ordered in 1968 and first entered operational service in 1973.
The selection of the Chinook represents a significant step in the process of retooling the badly equipped Bundeswehr. The German Air Force’s aging force of medium/heavy-lift CH-53 helicopters currently numbers around 66 active units, and the fleet will reach the end of its operational life in 2030.
The need for airborne transport capability in both fixed- and rotor-wing aspects remains an ongoing issue for Germany’s ability to deploy forces externally, a shortcoming brought to the fore when Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in February. Hours after the invasion was launched on February 24, the chief of the German army stated publicly that the forces under his command were in no condition to provide aid to the NATO Alliance following years of under-investment, noting that the Bundeswehr had been left “more or less bare.”
The German government headed by Chancellor Olaf Scholz aims to reverse the current state of the military by bringing the defense budget up to the NATO minimum requirement of equaling 2 percent of annual GDP, and seeking a constitutional amendment that will pave the way for allocation of a EUR100 billion ($107 billion) “special fund” for military rearmament. Scholz called the Russian invasion and newfound emphasis in Berlin on bolstering the military after stripping it apart over three decades a “Zeitwende,” or turning point.
Among the major rearmament priorities has been the German Heavy Transport Helicopter Program (Schwere Transporthubschrauber, or STH). The program was borne out of the failure to bring a prospective Franco-German initiative forward.
While upgrading its CH-53 Stallion fleet, Germany aimed to develop a long-term replacement in tandem with France, focusing on a heavy-lift concept first broached with Paris in 2004 under the name Heavy Transport Helicopter (HTH). That project – referred to as the Future Transport Helicopter program by Germany – would involve the pooling of resources in order to defray costs and involve a purchase of around 100 new helicopters.
The initiative failed to gather momentum, and after more than a decade of indecision, Germany opted to move forward by launching a competition for the acquisition of 44-60 units of an affordable, non-splashy, off-the-shelf transport helicopter platform also capable of conducting combat search-and-rescue (CSAR) missions.
In January 2016, the Bundeswehr shortlisted two heavy-lift options to meet the STH requirement to replace the existing fleet of CH-53G Stallions: Boeing’s H-47 Chinook and Sikorsky’s CH-53K King Stallion.
A formal RFP for 44 units (including options that might push the total up to 60) had been expected in 2017, but it slipped into 2019.
Requests for Proposals followed shortly thereafter. Responses from Boeing and Lockheed Martin-Sikorsky were submitted by the January 13, 2020, deadline. Best and final offers were due by year’s end, and a final decision on the winning STH bid expected in the first quarter of 2021, with the aim for deliveries of the selected platform to begin in 2023 and run through 2031.
But ultimately the entire initiative was scrapped, with an announcement of this decision posted via press release from the Federal Ministry of Defense on September 29, 2020. The decision to terminate the acquisition project came down to cost concerns, as the Defense Ministry – which had touted the effort to procure an off-the-shelf platform as a fast and economical way to acquire high-end capability without “gold-plating” its requirement – concluded that the two submitted bids were “uneconomical” in Germany’s current COVID-19-era budgetary climate.
Once revisited, the Defense Ministry opted for a straightforward purchase, with next to zero German-specific modifications thrown into the mix. The goal is to secure a contract before the end of 2022.
The choice of the Chinook came down to unit price – the Boeing offer allows Germany to order a full 60 units rather than the smaller 44 figure. Of additional value to the Bundeswehr is the benefit of interoperability with the Netherlands, another operator of the CH-47F and a close military partner to Germany.