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German navy calls for quick Sea Tiger contract signature

Germany needs a rapid acquisition of new naval helicopters under its Sea Tiger programme if the service is not to face a capability gap, the head of naval aviation and industry representatives have reaffirmed.

In August, the German defence ministry signaled that it had selected the NH Industries NH90 to replace the navy’s 24-strong fleet of aged Westland Sea Lynx 88s which are due to be removed from service in 2025.

Captain Thorsten Bobzin, commander of German naval aviation, points out that the duration of the Sea Lynx’s service life is “tightly defined” and therefore difficult to extend further.

To match that retirement deadline, a contract signature is required over the next 12 months, said Bobzin who was speaking in Donauworth at an event to mark the delivery of the navy’s first Sea Lion helicopter, another version of the NH90.

That view is supported by industry. Eberhard Scholl, vice-president NH90 NAHEMA programme at Airbus Helicopters – the largest shareholder in the NHI consortium – describes the navy’s 2025 deadline as a “critical timeframe”.

“If I work backwards, we would need to deliver the first aircraft at the beginning of 2024,” he says.

Similarities with the Sea Lion, the first of which was delivered in around five years from contract signature, and the French navy’s NH90 Caiman ASW helicopter, should simplify the development, says Scholl, but notes that Germany will not be able to add additional capabilities.

Discussions between industry and Germany’s BAAINBw procurement agency are “just starting”, says Scholl, but is working towards a possible contract signature next year.

Germany had also been considering the Leonardo Helicopters AW159 and Sikorsky MH-60R for the anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare mission, but eventually selected the NH90 due to fleet commonality considerations, says Bobzin.

All the contenders met “80% of the requirements”, he says, but rather than focusing on addressing those shortcomings “I started looking at the timeline where I could not really afford to go through a lengthy process of deciding”.

With the Sea King already being replaced with the NH90 by 2023, logistics and training structures were already in place to support the acquisition of additional examples, he says.

“The German navy has for a number of years been suffering from operating types of aircraft that nobody else in the armed services is flying.

“They were all very small fleets and have been operating for a long time. By now coming into a single helicopter fleet we are gaining 48 helicopters of the same make.”

The navy intends to acquire 31 examples of the NFH variant under the Sea Tiger programme, maintaining its policy of embarking two helicopters on each frigate in future, with a single unit to be reserved for test and evaluation activities.

Germany is buying 18 naval NH90s under the Sea Lion effort.