After Lockheed Martin/Sikorsky and Boeing, the two competitors for the German Bundeswehr’s Heavy Transport Helicopter (STH) had submitted their indicative bids on schedule (13th January 2020), negotiations for the preparation of the Best and Final Offer (BAFO) started in May 2020 – after evaluation by the German Federal Office of Bundeswehr Equipment, Information Technology and In-Service Support (BAAINBw).
Subject to the restrictions imposed by Coronavirus, the negotiations have been conducted via video conference and according to statements by parties involved, no significant delay has occurred so far. Therefore, negotiations are therefore expected to be concluded on schedule in August 2020 with the request for BAFO is planned for September 2020. Prior to this, the Bundestag must be informed about the models offered for operation, maintenance, repair, and adaptation and further development. The further schedule provides for the procurement and service contract to be concluded in March 2021 after the project has been approved by parliament, as is a rule for all procurement efforts exceeding a volume of €25m. This is the prerequisite for the scheduled delivery of the aircraft between 2025 and 2033.
In a virtual press conference, Lockheed Martin/Sikorsky and their German industrial team led by Rheinmetall provided information on selected aspects of the project. According to the companies, the CH-53K KING STALLION offered by Sikorsky has reached two important milestones this year. In April 2020, Lockheed Martin handed over the first flight simulator to the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC), thus enabling a new quality of training. Also in April, air-to-air refuelling was successfully performed with the C-130J transport aircraft – soon to be fielded by Germany – something key to the helicopter’s long-range capability. Sikorsky currently has 31 CH-53K helicopters in production and by 2025, when the first Bundeswehr aircraft are due to arrive, the USMC will have 70 CH-53Ks in service.
Rheinmetall explained its role in the German industrial team as coordinator for the various branches and as the central contact point for the Bundeswehr. Support for training and logistics were key elements of the industrial team’s services, they said. The simulators supplied by Lockheed Martin to the USMC did not meet the requirements of the Bundeswehr (including no motion simulation, insufficient certification). As a logistics centre, Rheinmetall is planning a hub based at Leipzig Airport from which the support units in Holzdorf and Laupheim, the future locations of the new heavy transport helicopter, will be controlled.
As a partner of GE Aviation, MTU Aero Engines is a member of the CH-53K’s T408 engine team, with an 18-percent stake. In the STH industrial team, this will results in advantages for maintenance and repair, which MTU intends to support in continuing its cooperation with the German armed forces. Autoflug intends to contribute crash-resistant seats for troop transport and multi-base pallets for freight transport. Hydro is preparing to provide special tools for the CH-53K for use in stationary maintenance in the field and in the aircraft, thus continuing the existing cooperation with the German armed forces. In addition, equipment for ground services is to be added.
These companies are part of the core team with the extended team including Hensoldt, Rohde & Schwarz, Vincorion, ZF Luftfahrt and Collins Aerospace. The CH-53K’s range of services reportedly exceeds the requirements of the Bundeswehr with attributes including the rotor folding system with advantages in strategic transport and in the use of the existing infrastructure, as well as the capacity of 12 m³ of extinguishing water, an increase by four times compared to its predecessor. For the STH project, the course is currently being set in the negotiations, not only for the selection of a supplier, but above all for the urgently needed prompt increase in capability in tactical air transport. Hopefully, the players involved will be able to implement the programme within the planned time frame.