The first modernized CH-53GA aircraft has been handed over to the German armed forces (Bundeswehr) by the Eurocopter Military Support Center, with another 39 aircraft to follow over a three-year period. The plan to update the aircraft reaches back to 2007 when it was decided to extend the design life of the aircraft from 6,000 to 10,000 hours. This should allow them to operate beyond 2030.
Eurocopter is carrying out the upgrade, and not Sikorsky, which built the airframes. When the German government decided to procure 110 CH-53Gs from Sikorsky in 1968, one of the conditions was that German companies VFW-Fokker (now absorbed into Eurocopter) and Dornier would assemble all but two of the helicopters. In 2001, Eurocopter updated all CH-53Gs in the fleet. By 2007, 89 CH-53s were still in service and this figure is expected to reduce to a maximum of 66 by 2014.
All of the German Army’s (Heersflieger) CH-53s, referred to as medium lifter helicopters, will be rebadged as German Air Force (Luftwaffe) aircraft in January 2013. In total 66 aircraft will transfer to the Luftwaffe as Hubschraubergeschwader 64 at two locations: Laupheim and Schonewalde/Holzdorf. These will comprise the CH-53GS/GE/GA aircraft that have been gradually upgraded over the last decade and will comprise: 20 CH-53GS (Special) aircraft; 6 CH-53GE (Enhanced) and the most recently updated 40 CH-53GAs (Advanced).
The CH-53GA (German Advanced) upgrade is being carried out by Eurocopter Germany’s Donauworth facility near Munich and involves structurally strengthening each airframe to repair fatigue built up over use, and the rewiring of each aircraft’s electrical system.
A Eurocopter statement lists the following upgraded features:
– avionics and a communications system from Rockwell Collins, which also are approved for use alongside the Tiger and NH90 helicopters.
– a four-axis autopilot with auto-hover automatic flight control system.
– a modernized electronic warfare system.
– glass cockpit with upgraded display and control functions.
– specific mission equipment packages that including a forward looking infrared (FLIR); satellite communications; and auxiliary fuel tanks that extend the aircraft’s range up to 1,200 km.
In addition to this first aircraft, three others were supplied to the German armed forces in July 2012 to be used for training. The 20 CH-53GS models were updated in the late 1990s to include additional counter-measures, upgraded communication and navigation systems as well as two extra external fuel tanks. These aircraft were the first to receive T64-100 engines for hot and high operations in Afghanistan, together with self protection machine guns. An additional 6 CH-53GEs received similar updates and also included dust filters for Afghan operations.
Related: Military News