Germany has cleared a major hurdle in its effort to acquire Boeing CH-47F Chinook heavy-lift helicopters, securing US export approval for the deal.
The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) on 11 May said regulators in Washington responsible for reviewing arms export sales have green lighted a request from Berlin that covers 60 aircraft at a total cost of $8.5 billion.
“This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security of the United States by improving the security of a NATO ally which is an important force for political and economic stability in Europe,” the judgement says.
While the DSCA is responsible for coordinating sales of American weapon systems to foreign governments, the US Department of State must certify that such sales are in the national security interests of Washington and will not alter “the basic military balance in the region”.
Congress also has power to scuttle proposed arms sales – an authority it has used in recent months to extract concessions from fellow NATO member Turkey, which is seeking to purchase new Lockheed Martin F-16 fighters. Washington did approve an avionics upgrade for existing Turkish F-16s in April.
“The proposed sale will improve Germany’s heavy lift capability,” the state department says of the Chinook deal. “Germany intends to use this enhanced capability to strengthen its homeland defence and… will have no difficulty absorbing this equipment and services into its armed forces.”
Germany selected the CH-47F over Sikorsky’s CH-53K King Stallion heavy lifter following a competitive bid. The country currently operates 80 of Sikorsky’s older CH-53G rotorcraft, according to Cirium data.
Notably, Berlin will be procuring the Block II version of the Chinook, joining the UK as the only international operators to order the latest variant of the twin-rotor helicopter.
Even the US Army has not formally committed to full-rate procurement of Block II CH-47s, though it has purchased a limited number of Block II CH-47s under low-rate production – but only after being mandated to do so by Congress. Thus far, funding has been approved for 10 Block II Chinooks, with Boeing expected to deliver the first aircraft to the army in 2024.
Army aviation leaders have said they hope before 2024 to better define the service’s future heavy-lift rotary aircraft requirements – which may or may not include a larger fleet of CH-47F Block IIs.
“The army is going to make a decision on the future of the cargo fleet this calendar year,” Major General Robert Barrie, who oversees army aviation procurement, said at the annual army aviation conference in April.
Separately, Boeing is producing the MH-47G special-operations variant of the Chinook for the army’s secretive 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, which provides flight support to the USA’s most-elite troops.
With the future of American CH-47 orders uncertain, Boeing has been counting on deals from foreign governments to keep production humming at its CH-47 line in Philadelphia. In addition to 60 Block IIs on order from Germany, the company holds commitments for 47 Block I Chinooks from Spain, Egypt and South Korea.
Germany’s parliament must still approve funding for the Chinook acquisition.