A German military CH-53G at the ILA Berlin Air Show in 2016
The German military has officially begun its search for a heavy transport helicopter to replace 80 CH-53G models by 2025, when they will start leaving service.
On Feb. 28, the German Federal Office for Equipment, Information Technology and Use of the Federal Armed Forces (BAAINBw) published a tender notice for the Schwere Transporthubschrauber (STH) — heavy-lift helicopter — program.
The rotorcraft should be capable of transporting personnel and equipment and have a maximum take-off weight greater than 20 tons. Thus far, only the Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion and Boeing CH-47F Chinook have shown they meet the requirements, German officials said.
Bids for the nearly $6.4 billion program are due by May 27. The Luftwaffe — the German Air Force — is to field 44 to 60 STHs between 2023 and 2031 after a final contract award in 2021. Included in the contract value are some maintenance, repair, and overhaul, as well as the training of pilots and technicians.
Like the CH-53Gs now in service, the STHs will be assigned to Luftwaffe 64 (HSG 64) Helicopter Squadron at the Holzdorf and Laupheim air bases.
While Sikorsky has an incumbent edge in the competition, the U.S. Defense Department Director of Test and Evaluation’s annual report last month said that the CH-53K had "multiple design deficiencies" found during post-delivery testing — shortfalls that are likely to delay operational testing and entry to service with the Marine Corps until at least 2021.
A planned initial operational capability (IOC) declaration in December 2019 “will be delayed” and the CH-53K program office is “working a major schedule revision” to address a list of structural problems found during system development and demonstration, according to the DOT&E report.
“The Program Office is requesting additional funding to complete sufficient developmental testing to enter [initial operational testing and evaluation] with a [key performance parameter] compliant system,” the report said. “Technical problems have extended [System Development and Demonstration] well beyond original projections.”
IOT&E is now projected to start in early 2021 so “multiple design deficiencies discovered during early testing” can be corrected, according to the report. The deficiencies include airspeed indication anomalies, low reliability of the main rotor gearbox, hot gas impingement on aircraft structures, tail boom and tail rotor structural problems, overheating of main rotor dampers, fuel system anomalies, high temperatures in the number-two engine bay and hot gas ingestion by the number-two engine, which could reduce available power.
Once it enters service, the King Stallion will be the largest single-rotor helicopter in the U.S. military inventory. It will be able to carry 27,000 pounds of cargo compared to the 9,000 pounds a CH-53E can carry, effectively tripling the Marine Corps' ship-to-shore lift capacity.