With the conclusion of the contract on obsolescence management of CH-53 helicopters, the Federal Office of Bundeswehr Equipment, Information Technology and In-Service Support (BAAINBw) has initiated the modernization of 26 helicopters. This comes at a time when the term of service of one of the CH-53's long-standing companions is drawing to a close.
With a contented smile, Armin Schmidt-Franke and Dr. Klaus Przemeck are holding a stack of closely printed pages into the camera. Schmidt-Franke is the Deputy Director-General of the Federal Office of Bundeswehr Equipment, Information Technology and In-Service Support (BAAINBw) in Koblenz, Przemeck is the head of Airbus Helicopters Deutschland. It is the 17th of February 2017, and they have just signed the voluminous contract to ensure the future and modernity of the CH-53 weapon system.
For Jürgen Degen, this signature marks the beginning of the end of an era. “My term of service will end in September after 37 years with the CH-53.” The Army Aviation captain has been working with the medium transport helicopter, which was introduced into the Bundeswehr in 1972, since 1980. He works for Branch L4.1 of the Air Directorate at BAAINBw, which is in charge of the in-service support of the helicopter.
Together with master sergeant Thomas Röder, he played a leading role in the project. Thanks to the conversion work that is about to start, the CH-53 is estimated to remain in service until 2030. Captain Degen is positive that the CH-53 will achieve this target. “Compared with other helicopters, it is very reliable and easy to maintain,” he says.
Twenty CH-53 GS and six CH-53 GE transport helicopters will be retrofitted. “G does not stand for Germany; it is simply the manufacturer's series designation. S and E, however, are designations used specifically by Germany. They stand for 'Special' and 'Enhanced',” explains captain Jürgen Degen. “The first two helicopters are already being prepared for obsolescence management at Airbus, the others will follow starting in 2018.”
Obsolescence management involves the replacement of components that are obsolete or no longer available on the market. This will be the case if a manufacturer stops producing an important spare part. In case of the CH-53 GS and GE helicopters, the affected components include the flight control system, the navigation system and the communications system.
This will lead to some changes for the crews. “There will be a new cockpit with multifunctional displays and we will integrate a new radar altimeter and a full autopilot system,“ explains captain Degen. But not only BAAINBw's own expertise was used for the modifications, as he continues to explain: “We are in constant communication with the troops. In particular, the arrangement of instruments in the new cockpit takes account of the pilots' requirements.”
In Koblenz, too, the contract met with approval. “We have negotiated resolutely and established a balanced basis for our future long-term cooperation, which provides the right incentives,” Deputy Director-General Armin Schmidt-Franke said when signing the contract. He was full of praise for the weapon system: “The CH-53 is a reliable transport helicopter and it has served us well on operations abroad.”
While for some, an era is ending, that of the CH-53 helicopter will continue. After the two helicopters from the pilot series, six helicopters are to be retrofitted every year from 2018 onward. According to this schedule, the Bundeswehr would have the complete fleet of modernized CH-53 GE and GS helicopters at their disposal in 2022. “By ordering these measures, BAAINBw has ensured that our troops will be able to rely upon a tried and tested, and yet modern, transport helicopter until 2030,” says Deputy Director-General Schmidt-Franke.