(This June 1 story corrects to read ‘CH-53’ (not ‘CH-53K’) in paragraph 1)
BERLIN – Germany will buy 60 Chinook heavy-lift helicopters from Boeing to replace its ageing CH-53 fleet, putting to bed an oft-postponed decision against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine.
“With this model we are strengthening our ability to cooperate in Europe,” said German Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht, without detailing how much the helicopters would cost during a speech to the Bundestag lower house of parliament on Wednesday.
According to past planning data, the Bundeswehr was set to acquire 45 to 60 heavy-lift helicopters for some 4 billion euros ($4.29 billion), to be delivered between 2023 and 2029.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, in a major policy shift for the country after decades of attrition of the armed forces, pledged in February to sharply increase defence spending and inject 100 billion euros into the Bundeswehr after Russia invaded Ukraine.
With the 100 billion euros, Scholz aims to bring the Bundeswehr’s weapons and equipment back up to standard after decades of attrition following the end of the Cold War.
The lion’s share of the special funds, some 40 billion euros, will be spent on air capabilities, according to a draft seen by Reuters and defence sources.
A crucial argument for the Chinook was its global use, German Chief of Defence Eberhard Zorn told reporters.
More than 500 Chinooks are in use by the U.S. Army and forces in Europe, which means spare parts are readily available, so the helicopters can be operated for a long time.
The CH-53K is only used by the U.S. Marines and Israel, Zorn said.
The decision marks a blow to Boeing’s rival Lockheed Martin, which had also competed for the order.
Boeing, with its trademark tandem rotor Chinook, and Lockheed’s Sikorsky, with its CH-53K, are the only Western companies offering this type of military helicopter.
Over recent years, the Bundeswehr has repeatedly postponed its decision on buying new heavy-lift helicopters.
It relied heavily on the old CH-53, which it had been flying since the 1970s, for its mission in Afghanistan.
The operation revealed the ageing helicopter’s shortcomings, with much maintenance work needed to keep it in the air.
($1 = 0.9323 euros)
(Reporting by Sabine Siebold; Writing by Miranda Murray and Thomas Escritt; Editing by Madeline Chambers, Barbara Lewis and Bernadette Baum)