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01 June 2016

ILA 2016: CHINOOKs for the Luftwaffe?

Replacement of the existing CH-53G/GA/GS heavy lift helicopters to maintain German capacity in this respect is becoming urgent. The German Air Force’s (Luftwaffe) is seeking to take delivery of a new helicopter by 2022 to replace the 80 aircraft in current inventory, which means selection and contract award will need to be achieved early in 2016.

This criterion, which means it is impossible for any rotorcraft not currently in production to be realistically considered, results in the choice really being between two airframes: The Boeing CH-47F CHINOOK or the Sikorsky CH-53K KING STALLION.

Some observers might suggest the Bell-Boeing V-22 OSPREY, but MT understands that Germany does not consider it to be large enough for the proposed role.

Current indications are that an RfP could be issued in early 2017 and that as far as numbers of aircraft are concerned a straight one for one replacement of the existing fleet might be preferred, but budget considerations are likely to lead to a somewhat smaller number of airframes being procured.

The CH-47F variant of the CHINOOK has a lot going for it at first glance. Over 875 helicopters have been delivered to the armed forces of 19 nations over the CH-47’s history and according to Boeing every one of those customers has requested additional quantities at one time or another – the ‘proof in the pudding,’ as far as the company is concerned.

The type has established a reputation for providing reliable capability since the A variant first appeared in 1962 and an incremental programme of design enhancement has kept its capabilities in line with developing requirements. The US Army, which has an ongoing programme of acquisition of 473 aircraft, well over 300 of which have already been delivered, will operate the CHINOOK until at least 2060. The US Coast Guard (USCG) signed a five year contract for the type in 2013.

Twin rotor helicopters offer several advantages for operators, including higher service ceilings, ease of loading/unloading, an increased centre of gravity and greater stability in high winds, according to Boeing. The CH-47 is in use in cargo/troop carrying, special operations forces, casualty evacuation, air assault, search and rescue and firefighting roles by the nations that operate it. Boeing’s enhancement programme over the last five decades has taken note of operational experience and lessons learned, resulting in the F variant, introduced from 2007, being a thoroughly modern aircraft.
Featuring an integrated Heads-Up Display (HUD), the CH-47F also benefits from a Rockwell Collins Common Aviation Architecture System (CAAS) cockpit, which enables the pilot to plan a flight route, integrate known airspace information onto a moving map display and make real time changes. It also provides for greatly enhanced situational awareness, an essential commodity in the highly pressurised environment of combat helicopter operations. Passive survivability has been improved with an advanced Infrared Signature Suppression System (IRSS), while a Common Missile Warning System, and an improved countermeasure dispenser enhance the rotorcraft’s self-defence capabilities.
A Digital Automatic Flight Control System (DAFCS) replaces the analogue system installed in earlier variants. Using DAFCS the pilot picks a destination, at which point the helicopter can fly there in ‘hands-free’ mode, then hold position, moving in increments of only one foot in both lateral and vertical axes at the touch of a button. Flight Data Recorders and a Cockpit Voice Recorder are also features of the CH-47F cockpit. The combination of improved avionics, enhanced flight controls and much more effective self-defence measures make the CH-47F a powerful and capable contender for the Luftwaffe’s requirement.

The potential does not stop there, however. In prospect for the CH-47F Block II – which will feature significantly increased payload and range – is the Advanced CHINOOK Rotor Blade, which will provide an additional 2,000lbs. of useful lift, according to Boeing. The maximum gross weight (GW) of the F variant has increased to 50,000lbs. (22,680kg) from the 33,000lbs. (15,000kg) of the original A variant. In addition, the useful load of the helicopter is 24,000lbs. (10,886kg) – an impressive 48% of maximum GW.

Powered by two Honeywell T55-GA-714A turboshaft engines each developing 3,529kW, the CH-47F provides operators with a maximum speed of 315km/h, a service ceiling of 20,000ft (6,100m) and a comfortable mission radius of 370 kilometres.

Of increasing importance to the user is the through life cost of any complex platform such as a military helicopter and that requires careful attention be paid to ease and effectiveness of routine maintenance. The CH-47F features an Interactive Electronic Technical Maintenance Management System that offers greatly improved reliability. In addition, the machined airframe provides for significant reductions in maintenance crew workload, Boeing asserts.

The Luftwaffe will use its heavy lift helicopters for a wide variety of roles, including SOF and CSAR. As a result, it has a demand for an inflight refuelling capacity, despite having no tankers currently capable of providing such facilities for helicopters. Nevertheless, the German demand is likely to require such a capability being designed into its new heavy lift rotorcraft from the outset, preparing for the day it does become available.

Competition is one of the best guarantees any military operator has of getting the best value for its investment in new platforms. The complex and mission-critical nature of the operational requirement, however, make the conduct of any competition – and the selection process resulting from it – a multi-faceted and difficult task. Evaluating the capabilities, reliability, survivability, performance, and sustainability of the Luftwaffe’s next heavy vertical lift aircraft, establishing true through life costs, selecting a winner, negotiating the best value for money and bringing the winner into service will be a big ask for German procurement officials. All of this has to be done in a compressed timescale to meet the ambitious target of delivery commencement by 2022. We can thus expect to see a lot more detail emerging in coming months regarding the capabilities and relative advantages of the two main contenders for one of the larger potential helicopter orders extant in today’s military aerospace market.