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The German Navy today announced that the NH90 NATO Frigate Helicopter (NFH) has been selected as the successor to the German Navy’s Sea Lynx Mk 88A onboard helicopter. In total 31 helicopters were ordered.

A corresponding bill was approved by Vice Admiral Joachim Rühle, Deputy Inspector General of the Bundeswehr, on July 29. According to the report, the Federal Ministry of Defence, supported by the Federal Office for Bundeswehr Equipment, Information Technology and InService Support (BAAINBw), has been preparing this decision since the end of 2018.

The designation of the new on-board helicopter is “Multi-Role Frigate Helicopter” (Mehrrollenfähiger Fregattenhubschrauber – MRFH) as the German version of the NH90 NATO Frigate Helicopter (NH90 NFH). The design is featuring essential commonalities with the French NFH (NFRS) Caiman version (pictured). In addition to Italy and France, the NFH already flies for the Belgian, Italian, Dutch and Norwegian navies.

A company spokesman from Airbus Helicopters welcomed this selection decision and explained that at this stage the company would not yet have complete information on the requirements profile. Therefore, detailed information on the final design of the aircraft cannot yet  be disclosed. What is certain, however, is that the MRFH will be developed and configured on the basis of the NH90 Sea Lion.

The NH90 was originally designed as a basic helicopter at the request of the European nations. It has a modular design and is available in Tactical Transport Helicopter (TTH) and NATO Frigate Helicopter (NFH) versions. In terms of technology, both helicopter versions are basically identical, but differ significantly in their mission equipment. The NH90 NFH also serves as the basis for the Sea Lion, successor to the Sea King.

According to the Navy, on-board helicopters are an integral part of the “frigate system.” Equipped, for example, with sonar, radar and torpedoes, they are essential sensor and weapon carriers against sea targets above and under water. In addition, they can flexibly support maritime operations through transport and rescue operations.

The next milestone in the MRFH procurement process is the parliamentary approval, which is expected in 2020. According to estimates, there is a need for 24-26 helicopters.


Demands on the Successor

Derived from the capability profile of the Sea Lynx currently in service, it is assumed that the successor’s required key capabilities will be anti-submarine (ASW) and surface warfare (ASuW). In addition, Search and Rescue (SAR) missions and the transport of people and material may be required.

In order to detect and engage submarines, helicopters must have the appropriate technical equipment. These include a powerful radar that can detect a snorkel or periscope protruding just a few centimetres above the water surface. Active and passive dipping sonars are used for underwater detection. Sometimes naval helicopters are also equipped with drop-off sonobuoys, which have to be accommodated in the fuselage.

After the detection of a submarine, the helicopters should also be able to engage them. The German Navy prefers to use torpedoes for this purpose, two of which are generally on board a helicopter of this kind. The more payload reserves there are, the more equipment a helicopter can carry. With a unit weight of about 300 kg per torpedo, this is an important factor.


Hangar Challenge

Only the Class 124 and 125 frigates and the future MKS 180 of the German Navy are equipped with landing decks and hangars for embarking up to two NH90-sized helicopters. However, the hangar doors of the F124 would have to be adapted. The class F123 frigates, on the other hand, cannot accommodate helicopters of this size, the hangar is too small for that. As a result, class F123 frigates would not be able to accommodate onboard helicopters until the end of their service life (2030s).

Waldemar Geiger & Lars Hoffmann