Germany is to accelerate the retirement of its 55-strong fleet of Tiger attack helicopters, bringing forward the out-of-service date for the Airbus Helicopters type by around six years to early 2033.
Detailing the move in its latest equipment report, the German defence ministry says the fleet will initially be reduced to 33 units by 2028, falling to 24 by 2032.
Germany had previously stated that the Tigers would be retired by 2038 but now says: “At the beginning of 2033, all remaining aircraft will be withdrawn from use.”
By that point, the remaining aircraft will have been raised to the ASGARD standard – a modification originally intended to support the Tiger’s deployment in Afghanistan; to date, 13 helicopters have received the enhancement, the report says.
Berlin says the progressive fleet reduction will generate a pool of “high-value parts” to keep the remaining aircraft operational.
In addition, the drawdown “enables the proportional takeover” of the Tiger’s role by the H145M. Berlin has ordered 62 examples of the Airbus Helicopters light-twin, plus 20 options, in an armed configuration to operate as a “bridge solution” while the army’s future attack requirements are defined.
However, Germany has ruled out its participation alongside France and Spain in the Tiger MkII+ upgrade programme, citing poor cost-risk assessments.
Berlin remains confident that the measures outlined will “mean that increased availability and improved provision of flight hours can be expected in the medium to long term”.
Meanwhile, the defence ministry has again hit out at the availability of its NH Industries (NHI) NH90s. Operated by the army in the TTH troop transport guise and by the navy as the NFH-based Sea Lion, the report says that availability levels for both variants have “stabilised, but at an unsatisfactory level”.
A total of 82 NH90 TTHs have been delivered to the army, with 28 examples handed over in a initial operating configuration. To date, 15 of these have been upgraded by Airbus Helicopters – part of the NHI consortium – to the latest standard, with the airframer to “gradually deliver [the remainder] until the end of 2024”.
Germany is also working on a separate upgrade programme it calls THOR, which will add special forces deployment capabilities, a new SATCOM and improvements to the electronic warfare system.
A “sample integration” of most changes has been commissioned and is being performed by industry, the report says.
In addition, a further contract is expected to be finalised in the first half of 2024 covering avionic upgrades for the global NH90 fleet through the software release 3 (SWR3) enhancement, which will be tested from mid-2029.
SWR3 will make “a significant contribution” to maintaining the capability of Germany’s NH90 fleet, the report states.
However, at present, the “programme remains subject to delays in capability growth and operational limitations”, the defence ministry says. Low availability has also resulted in “insufficient capacity” for training, exercises and operations, which must be prioritised on a case-by-case basis.
For the navy, the challenge is to ramp up operations with the Sea Lion before the retirement of its Westland Sea King predecessor in August this year.
Although the progressive introduction of the Sea Lion for search and rescue operations began last year, the pace of the transition has been slower than planned.
“The prerequisite for this remains a helicopter fleet that is ready for use and supply, which provides the necessary functional capabilities and enables adequate material readiness for intended operation,” the ministry states.
In addition to being afflicted by the same low availability rates as the army, the switch to the Sea Lion has also been held back by the late delivery of a full mission simulator, with the device only arriving in December 2023.
“The level of training of the aircraft crews continues to be below expectations,” the report notes.
All 18 Sea Lions have now been delivered, but the upgrade of an initial 12 units received in a Step 1 configuration is under way and is expected to be completed by 2025.
Separately, Germany is expecting to receive its first Boeing CH-47F Chinook in mid-2027, following parliamentary approval and official acceptance of the deal last summer. Deliveries will run until 2032 – one year ahead of the previous schedule.