Bad news for the troops: According information obtained by Der Spiegel, the modernization of Bundeswehr’s rescue helicopters is being massively delayed. Until 2020, only aircraft dating back to the 1960s will be available for emergencies.
German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen (CDU) has again suffered an annoying defeat in an armaments project: According to information obtained by Der Spiegel, the urgently-needed replacement of search and rescue helicopters (SARs) has again been delayed by several years.
The reason for the delay is a dispute between Bell Helicopters and Airbus Helicopters. Both manufacturers would like to equip the Bundeswehr with a successor for the army’s rescue fleet, and therefore present themselves before the Federal public procurement chamber.
This has considerable consequences for the troops. According to estimates by the defence ministry’s armaments department, even if the dispute is resolved at the earliest, it can be expected that seven new SAR helicopters will be able to be procured by 2020.
Until then, the troops must continue to manage with their decrepit Bell UH-1D helicopters. The Bundeswehr has been operating them since the end of the sixties and the public mainly knows them through images from the Vietnam War.
The German Armed Forces wanted to retire these vintage helicopters long ago, and replace them with Airbus helicopters. However, due to errors in the award procedure, which Spiegel reported back in 2015, there were always new delays. According to internal papers, Secretary of State Katrin Suder is very upset about this new failure.
Even the army, which operates the rescue helicopters of the Bundeswehr, is unhappy. The delays mean that the old Bell helicopters must now be kept in service for at least two more years. This is very expensive, as the Bundeswehr had to conclude an extra maintenance contract.
The case is also politically embarrassing for the Minister, who has been a stern reformer of the broken-down armaments sector. Leyen has made a strong push for a EU program of stronger military cooperation, and Germany has registered as the lead nation to establish a joint European command for air rescue operations. With its old Bell helicopters, the German Armed Forces are now literally the oldest in Europe.
The problems could also have consequences for the general public. Since the Bundeswehr also supports civil air rescue in emergencies such as major accidents or crisis situations, gaps can also be created here.