Germany Upgrading Its CH-53G Helicopters
From 1971-1975, 110 “CH-53G Mittlerer Transporthubschrauber” derivatives of the CH-53D Sea Stallions were built in Germany. Though they share the CH-53E’s ability to lift medium-heavy loads, including up to 2 of Germany’s Wiesel armored infantry support vehicles, the CH-53Gs lack the 3rd engine and additional features of the improved CH-53E Super Stallions that have been operated by the US Marine Corps since 1981. A 2002 decision set a future force goal of 80 CH-53G and upgraded CH-53GS helicopters in the German Army, via modernization and life extension projects.
Which leads us to the current modernization project, even as Germany and France prepare their European Heavy-Lift Helicopter project for introduction around 2020. That effort is also surrounded by more urgent modifications, including one set that aims to create longer-range combat search and rescue capabilities:
Eurocopter’s German Army Helicopter Assistance Center in Donauworth already has an order to retrofit a total of 82 CH-53G/GS aircraft. They will completely replace these helicopters’ 35 year old electrical systems, while addressing airframe fatigue and extending the helicopters’ design life from 6,000 to 10,000 flight hours.
Measures to maintain airworthiness for Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) flight are also underway, and on Feb 14/07, Germany’s Federal Office for military technology and procurement (BWB) awarded EADS Eurocopter a EUR 520 million (currently about $685 million) contract to modernize 40 more of the 80 CH-53G/GS medium-heavy transport helicopters left in the army fleet. See Defense Aerospace’s BWB release translation. In May 2008, another 6 helicopters were added to that program.
The CH-53GA improvement package includes:
- Airframe fatigue modifications as part of the larger program
- New communications and data transmission that will allow joint missions with NH90 transport and Tiger scout/attack helicopters, and Satellite communications capabilities
- Improved navigation and a civilian-standard (IFR) flight management system
- A new automatic flight control system with 4-axis-autopilot and automatic hovering
- Forward-looking infrared to improve night mission options
- A new EloKa electronic warfare system for self-protection, and
- An additional internal fuel tank to extend range to 1,200 km
The modernization work will be complete in 2013, and is designed to ensure that the upgraded CH-53GAs will remain able to carry out their missions until the helicopters are replaced around 2030. The refurbished CH-53Gs will be operationally compatible with Germany’s new NH90 TTH troop transport and Tiger UHT/HAC attack helicopters, which will form the core of Germany’s future helicopter capabilities.
The 25 CH-53GS combat search and rescue aircraft, with their external fuel tanks, night vision fittings, defensive systems, and upgraded wiring/airframes, will also remain in service, alongside the CH-53GAs.
Contracts & Key Events
Feb 10/10: First flight of a CH-53GA helicopter at Eurocopter’s Donauworth facility. Training flights are slated for early 2011, with the first deliveries of the retrofitted helicopters later in the same year. Eurocopter.
June 18/09: EADS subsidiary Eurocopter Deutschland GmbH announces a EUR 24.9 million contract from the German BWB defense procurement agency, to retrofit 25 CH53 GS/GE transport helicopters for “personnel recovery missions,” also known as combat search-and-rescue (CSAR). The USA has used a related CH-53 variant for CSAR missions: the MH-53J Pave Low, which completed its final combat mission in October 2008.
The German helicopters will receive a personnel locator system, a broadband radio unit, a forward-looking infrared system (FLIR) and connections to the internal and satellite communications systems. A new, removable mission-tactical workstation will roll into the cargo bay, with the controls for operating the additional sensor systems. Feeds will show up on 2 workstation displays, and on a mobile display for the cockpit crew.
Retrofit work will be carried out by Eurocopter Deutschland at its Donauworth plant or on Army bases. The first retrofitted helicopter is scheduled for delivery in early 2010, and all modifications are expected to be complete by the end of 2011.
May 28/08: At the ILA International Aerospace Exhibition, the German Federal Office for Defence Technology and Procurement (BWB) and Eurocopter Deutschland GmbH signed a EUR 24 million ($36 million) contract to retrofit 6 more CH-53G transport helicopters with ballistic self protection and specific mission equipment. Eurocopter Deutschland was chosen as the main contractor for this task. but much of this order will be spent with “medium-sized German equipment manufacturers.”
The American Eurocopter release says that the German Army will take delivery of the helicopters between May and November 2009. It adds that:
“The order aims to close some of the operational gaps that currently exist in part of the German Army’s fleet of CH53G helicopters, in particular to the defensive mission equipment for protecting the crews and helicopters while flying missions.”
Nov 19/07: Some of Germany’s CH-53Gs are currently serving in Afghanistan as the only helicopter assets available to ISAF’s Regional Command North, which encompasses 9 of the easier Afghan provinces and contains Provincial Reconstruction Teams from Germany, Hungary, Norway and Sweden. Because they are ISAF RCN’s only helicopter assets, the CH-53Gs normally fly as a pair for mutual support, further limiting their reach.
At present, the 2 door-mounted 7.62mm machine guns mounted in the CH-53Gs aren’t considered powerful enough to deliver effective suppressive fire in an ambush situation. The Afghan helicopters will be among the first to receive an armament upgrade in 2008, which begins by adding a .50 caliber/ 12.7mm M3M machine gun. It’s also mounted on American CH-53s, where it’s known as the GAU-21. Phase 2 of the upgrade will also see the CH-53Gs’ door guns replaced with FN Herstal’s M3Ms. It isn’t much, but it’s something – and more than they currently have available. Aviation Week Ares.
Aug 27/07: A Rockwell Collins release announces a contract from Eurocopter Deutschland to develop a German Avionics Management System (GAMS) for the German Army CH-53G helicopter, with the first 2 qualification/ verification aircraft scheduled for delivery in mid-2009. A majority of GAMS development and production will take place at Rockwell Collins Deutschland located in Heidelberg, Germany.
The GAMS will be based on the Rockwell Collins’ Common Avionics Architecture System (CAAS) developed for US Special Operations Command, and integrated into new regular Army platforms like the CH-47F Chinook and the ARH-70A. This system will provide a modular open system architecture (OSA) cockpit with mission management system that includes a flight management system, new navigation sensors, 5 displays, and a communication suite tailored and adapted specifically to German Army requirements.