On 8 December, the NH90 SEA LION Naval Transport Helicopter (NTH) destined for the German Navy undertook its first official flight at the premises of Airbus Helicopters in Donauwörth, Germany. The procurement of 18 SEA LIONs is a key programme for the Navy, so it did not come as a surprise when the Chief of the German Navy, Vice Admiral Andreas Krause, agreed that, with the maiden flight of the SEA LION, the Navy achieved an important milestone in its process to rejuvenate its naval aviation. Stating, “today is a day for celebration,” the Admiral explained that the advent of the new helicopter was long awaited. He pointed out that the Navy will take delivery of the first three aircraft “around” October 2019.
Vice Admiral Krause also turned to the issue of testing and certification, noting that the programme is now about to enter the critical phase of qualification and testing. He also noted that the training of pilots usually takes plenty of time, so the Navy needs to raise the issue and begin qualification of new pilots, with the help of new flight simulators that do not form part of the current SEA LION contract.
Demand for a successor of Germany’s 40-year old inventory of 21 SEA KING Mk 41 helicopters was growing in recent years, and the induction of the new NH90 SEA LION now means the German Navy can better cope with future roles at sea. Operated from land-based installations and the three Type 702 combat support ships (Einsatzgruppenversorger or EGVs), the helicopter’s principal roles will include Search and Rescue, maritime reconnaissance, as well as transport of personnel, equipment, and Special Forces units. So far, the programme, costing “some” €750 million, according to the CEO of Airbus Helicopters Deutschland GmbH, Dr. Wolfgang Schoder, took advantage of the experiences gathered by five NATO partners that already received their NH90 naval helicopters and the fact that the German NTH is based on an existing NH90 model.
By adding the required additional functionalities to the aircraft, the manufacturer was able to significantly reduce the delivery process. “We need to keep to a tight schedule if we are to replace the SEA KING in time. This requires all those participating in the project to coordinate quickly and efficiently to achieve this,” Ralph Herzog, Director at the German BAAINBw procurement authority, pointed out. “So, if we can bring everyone together as we work on this next step it will benefit everyone.” Summing up, the general view is that the SEA LION programme is looking fairly rosy with plenty of opportunities ahead in the next years.