Green light for Germany to buy sixty CH-47 heavy-lift helicopters

On 5th July, the office of German Ministry of Defence announced that budget committee of Bundestag, the German parliament, finally approved the purchase of sixty heavy light CH-47F Chinook rotorcraft. It is supposed that the new acquirement is expected to be worth more than 8 billion EUR.

The German heavy-lift helicopter purchase had already come a long and complicated way. The project was initiated already in 2017, as Schwerer Transporthubschrauber – STH (English: Heavy Transport Helicopter) programme and aimed to buy 40 to 60 rotorcraft for approximately 5.6 billion EUR.

The offers from manufacturers were received in January of 2020 but after a few months, Bundesamt für Ausrüstung, Informationstechnik und Nutzung der Bundeswehr (English: Federal Office of Bundeswehr Equipment, Information Technology and In-Service Support) have assessed the offers as uneconomical and recommended to cancel the entire project (check our article from October 2020 for further details).

That decision also meant suspension of retirement schedule for German CH-53 heavy-lift helicopters. Initially, the agreement for new rotorcraft was planned to be concluded in 2021, with first deliveries expected in 2023. Therefore, it would allow to begin with the CH-53 withdrawal since 2035.

In addition, outcomes of the coronavirus pandemic made any quick purchase even more unlikely. Consequently, the case of renewal of the German heavy-lift helicopter fleet was suspended for indefinite duration.

Nevertheless, the purchase gained some new positive momentum in 2022, following the war in Ukraine. After considerable hesitation, Germany finally decided not only to raise its defence budget above the minimum 2% of GDP set for NATO countries but also to proceed with several new acquirements.

In June of 2022, the German Ministry of Defence officially announced that the CH-47F Block II was selected as the replacement for the CH-53 fleet. In May of 2023, the purchase was approved by the US government.

German CH-53 heavy-lift helicopter, 2019

The German package is expected to include sixty rotorcraft worth approximately 6.27 billion EUR, as well as additional sums to be spent on post-sales service, infrastructure upgrade and investment in the domestic aviation industry. According to earlier Boeing´s announcement, the new helicopter will be produced and maintained in cooperation with German-based partners, such as Chinook Deutschland, Airbus Helicopters, Honeywell and Lufthansa Technik.

In the meantime, the Boeing company announced the final production contracts for the CH-47F Block I helicopters. They include eighteen Chinooks for South Korea and one for Spain, increasing the heavy-lift helicopter fleet of the latter to eighteen CH-47s. According to the company, those agreements mean the final aircraft in Block I configuration ordered via the US Department of Defense Foreign Military Sale. Thus, Boeing is going to finalize transitioning to more advanced Block II variant.

´The CH-47F Block I Chinook continues to be the preeminent heavy-lift helicopter in the world for good reason,´ said Heather McBryan, CH-47 vice president and programme manager, Boeing Vertical Lift. He then emphasized that ´While this concludes Block I orders as we continue our modernization efforts, we’ll continue supporting our customers’ aircraft as they play a vital role for years to come.´

According to the manufacturer, in consequence of the abovementioned order, production of the CH-47F Block I will be continued until 2027. The Republic of South Korea will be the fifteenth country in the world to operate the CH-47F Block I fleet.

Meanwhile, the Boeing company is proceeding with completion of already received orders for the CH-47F Block II. Six helicopters of that variant were ordered by the US Army, thirty-six by the US Army Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and further fourteen by the United Kingdom. The first deliveries for the US Army are expected to commence in the early 2024.

´The Block II programme is the natural successor to an already exceptional aircraft,´ McBryan added. ´It will provide the U.S. Army and international allies even more capabilities in a complex and evolving battlefield.´

CH-47F Chinook of the Australian Army (photo © Boeing)

Cover photo: A CH-47 Chinook Helicopter prepares to land at Grayling Army Airfield during exercise Northern Strike 17 (Michigan National Guard photo by Spc. Alan Prince, US Department of Defense, Public Domain)
Photo no. 3 and all quotations © Boeing. Information from the Boeing Company and German MoD press releases were used.