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Rheinmetall to Maintain German Air Force Sikorsky CH-53G Transport Helicopters

The Bundeswehr has contracted with Rheinmetall to look after, maintain and repair Germany’s Sikorsky CH-53G transport helicopters at two additional bases. Starting in March 2022, the company has been supporting the German Air Force at Laupheim in Baden-Württemberg and Holzdorf-Schönewalde on the border of Saxony-Anhalt and Brandenburg, conducting pre-flight inspections and operating a total of three service bays for partial work phases at the 64th Helicopter Squadron. Worth a figure in the lower two-digit million-euro range, the contract with Rheinmetall Aviation Services GmbH runs for three years in two lots. Rheinmetall has been maintaining CH-53G helicopters on behalf of the German Air Force ever since November 2020. As planned, the company took over maintenance operations at Diepholz Air Base in Lower Saxony in March 2021.

The first German-built CH-53G Mittlerer Transporthubschrauber helicopter flew from Speyer on 11 October 1971 and was delivered to the Erprobungsstelle der Bundeswehr 61 flight test center at Manching on 1 December 1971. The German received 110 type CH-53Gs, derivatives of the CH-53D, between 1971 and 1975. 108 helicopters were built in Germany by VFW-Fokker. The first flight by a German CH-53G was made in 1971, followed in March 1973 by the delivery of the first machines to Heeresfliegerregiment (HFlgRgt, Army Aviation Corps Regiment) 35 in Mendig, and shortly afterwards to the newly formed Army Aviation Corps Regiment 15 based at Rheine and Army Aviation Corps Regiment 25 based at Laupheim. German Army Aviation Corps units have carried out a wide range of international missions under the auspices of NATO and the UN, providing transport for members of UNSCOM in Iraq, serving in Kosovo with KFOR, with IFOR in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and more recently with ISAF in Afghanistan.

German Air Force Sikorsky CH-53G Transport Helicopter. (Photo by Bundeswehr/Peter Straub)

On 1 January 2013, all Army Aviation Corps CH-53Gs were transferred to the German Air Force and incorporated into Helicopter Wing 64. The 64th Helicopter Squadron is stationed in Laupheim where, together with its air transport group at Holzdorf-Schönewalde, it operates 66 CH-53G helicopters, an aircraft which has been in the Bundeswehr inventory since 1972. In all cases, the work Rheinmetall carries out is directly embedded in the structures of the 64th Helicopter Squadron. Overcoming rival bids in a request for tenders, the Düsseldorf-based integrated technology group’s subsidiary Rheinmetall Aviation Services GmbH (RAS) will now be carrying out maintenance operations at Laupheim and Holzdorf-Schönewalde. During the 2010s, German was reportedly considering options for replacing its aging CH-53G fleet, with candidates including the Chinook and the CH-53K model.

Based in Bremen, Rheinmetall Aviation Services GmbH was founded in 2019 for the Group’s strategic cooperation with Sikorsky in pursuit of the Heavy Transport Helicopter procurement programme, with RAS in charge of maintenance, repairs, training and documentation. Rheinmetall and Sikorsky have been actively cooperating in various procurement projects ever since 2009. Expertise acquired along the way has been profitably applied on behalf of the Bundeswehr since the start of 2021 at Diepholz Air Base, where Rheinmetall Aviation Services GmbH supports the German Air Force with two full-service maintenance bays. Having won the latest order, Rheinmetall will now be supporting the German Air Force wherever CH-53G helicopters are home based. Thanks to Rheinmetall’s already established local presence at these bases, the Bundeswehr stands to benefit enormously from this partnership in the medium term.