German Army Aviation Operations

The German Army CH-53G medium transport helicopters have been deployed to Afghanistan for the past decade. (German Army)

David Oliver 2012

It may be a surprise to some to remember that German Army Aviation units equipped with the CH-53 have been supporting ISAF operations in Afghanistan for exactly a decade. In fact it was an accident to a CH-53GS in Kabul in December 2002 led to one of the biggest loses to German Forces since 1945 when seven crew were killed due a technical fault.

Since then five CH-53GS helicopters, and one reserve, have been permanently based at Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan which have been the only heavy lift helicopter assets available to ISAF’s Regional Command North. Only 20 CH-53GSs of 72 CH-53s in the German inventory have the mission equipment and performance adequate to meet the requirements of the ISAF mission.

German CH-53G practice dust landings during the EDA Exercise Hot Blade 2012 in Portugal. (David Oliver)

At Mazar, two pilots, two crew chiefs, three door gunners and three medics are assigned to each aircraft each. The aircraft are limited in payload and performance by the hot-and–high environment and each airframe is restricted to 120 flight hours per months to ensure the CH-53 can stay in service through to 2030.

Demand for the CH-53 Full Flight Simulator (FFS) training at Han E Drebing Simulation Centre at the German Army Aviation School in Bückeburg has increased since the type has been deployed to Afghanistan which provides 40 per cent of the pilot’s total training.

Live training exercises for CH-53 crews are few and far between these day although in July of this year five aircraft and more than 100 personnel from Army Aviation Medium Transport Regiment 15 “Munsterland” based from Rheine Air Base, took part in two-week long Exercise Hot Blade at Ovar in Portugal. The exercise formed part of the European Defence Agency’s Helicopter Training Programme (HTP) in which more than 50 helicopters from Austria, Belgium, Finland, Germany, and the Netherlands participated. The exercise scenario, which ranged over a large part of the country, was based in the fictional Idrasse Peninsula where an EU Force was tasked with maintaining security conditions for humanitarian activities, the surveillance and suppression of illegal armed groups, and the deterrence of territorial incursions by a neighbouring state.

The German unit comprised a mix of experienced Afghan aircrews and those training to deploy in the near future. For the first time for twenty years, the CH-53s were transported by ship to Porto where they were re-assembled by the unit’s technicians and test flown prior to the start of the exercise. In hot, high and dusty conditions, the exercise included air assault, special operations support, close air support, convoy escort, combat search and rescue (CSAR), personnel recovery (PR), MEDEVAC and CASEVAC. The implemented Joint Interoperability training incorporated lessons learned from operations in Afghanistan and Libya, crews flew in joint and combined scenarios, learning to communicate and trust each other in and operational scenario.

The EDA HTP was also involved in the creation the three-week Helicopter Tactics Course, operated by AgustaWestland at RAF Linton-on-Ouse in the UK where a number of Germans aircrews have been trained since the beginning of the year. The training applies the latest developments in gaming technology to deliver a high fidelity virtual environment for helicopter crew mission training based on recent operational experience. The equipment provides student stations for the pilot, navigator, engineer and the rear crew on simulators that can be reconfigured for crews operating various helicopter types.

Four Tiger ASGARD combat helicopters will be deployed to Afghanistan at the end of the year. (David Oliver)

In addition, the two FFSs at Bückberg are being modified for the upgraded CH-53GA that is entering service and future upgrades may include enhanced brownout scenarios, Afghanistan database and mission training for full crews including coupled door-gunner simulators. The CH-53GA features a redesigned glass cockpit with digital avionics, and new flight control system with 4-axis autopilot and auto hover, a new FLIR and auxiliary fuel tanks installed in the cabin to increase range to 750 km. The first of 40 CH-53GAs flew at Donauworth in February 2010 and the type is scheduled to enter service in 2013 by which time the CH-53 fleet will have been transferred from the Army to the Air Force.

A milestone in German Army Aviation was passed in March 2011 when the Tiger support helicopter (HT) was given full approval to fly over German airspace by the German aviation authority. As from the end of this year, German Army Aviation assets in Afghanistan will be considerably enhanced with the deployment of its latest frontline helicopters, the Tiger UHT and NH90 TTH. The focus is now on pilot training in order to achieve combat mission ready status in the late summer of 2012. Germany plans to have four Tiger helicopters patrolling the close air space in the northern region of Afghanistan by the end of the year, two of which will serve as a technical reserve. Their mission profile will include reconnaissance, surveillance and convoy protection, and a first for German aircraft, they will be authorized to fire on the enemy using its 12.7 mm machine gun or 70 mm unguided rockets.

In view of the planned short-term availability of the helicopters in Afghanistan, training crews on Tiger helicopters has become an urgent requirement. After initial pilot and crew commander training at the Franco-German School (EFA) at Le Luc in the south of France, nearly 70 per cent of which is carried out on simulators, tactical training is continued at the German combat helicopter regiments at Fritzlar and Roth, each of which has two full mission simulators (FMS) and two cockpit procedure trainers (CPT) developed by Thales And Rheinmetall Defence Electronics. Network training can be carried out with the EFA at Le Luc, the regiments at Fritzlar and Roth, and the Bundeswehr Technical Centre for Information Technology (WTD 81).

Six of Attack Helicopter Regiment 36’s Tiger UHT aircraft are being modified for the Afghanistan Stabilisation German Army Rapid Deployment (ASGARD) role.

The NH90s will operate in Afghanistan in pairs, one in the CASEVAC role and the other as an armed escort. (Eurocopter)

They will be joined by four German Army NH90 Tactical Transport Helicopters (TTH) with Enhanced Operational Capability (EIOC), two of which will be equipped Forward Air Medical Evacuation (FwdAirMedEvac) kits enabling them to carry out CASEVAC and MEDEVAC roles, while the other two will carrying out the escort role armed with waist-mounted machine guns over any terrain, day or night and in all weather and visual flight conditions.

In the FwdAirMedEvac kit, that be installed in 30 minutes, comprises two intensive care stations and seats for the medical team, while medical equipment such as a defibrillator, a transport ventilator and a surveillance monitor allow onboard medical treatment of casualties. The Fassburg-based Transport Helicopter Regiment 10 will be the designated lead unit for the initial NH90 deployment.

Both the EIOC NH90s and Tiger ASGARD-Fs will be equipped with additional ballistic protection, sand filters and improvements to their defensive aids suite and communications equipment.

The NH90s will be the first of their type to be deployed operationally and also the first to be equipped with Cassidian Sferion situational awareness system. This comprises SferiSense 500, developed from Hellas-A, a 3D sensor based on Light Detection and Ranging (LADAR) which detects, classifies and displays environmental information such as obstacles, terrain and wires, special awareness including current position, altitude, attitude and velocity, and tactical awareness for locating targets, surveillance and reconnaissance information.

The system is designed to reduce the pilot’s workload especially when undertaking CASEVAC, CSAR and PR missions to and from confined areas at unknown landing sites often in degraded visual environments (DVE). It can detect 5 mm wires at 700 m with a detection probability above 99.5 per cent, classify objects according to risk level and calculate and display a real-time safety line that provides intuitive flight path advisory information to guide the pilot over obstacles and terrain. The obstacle warning symbols can be overlain on a FLIR video or a head-down/helmet-mounted sight display and are compatible with NVGs. The Final Qualification Review of the civil certified system has successfully passed for the NH90.

The German Army NH90 will be equipped with the offset nose-mounted SferiSense system. (Cassidian)

The SferiAssist is an enhanced system to achieve safe operations in DVE during all flight phases based on fused on-board database, real-time of-board and 3D sensor information is under development and is destined to be integrated with SferiSense.

A consortium comprising Eurocopter, CAE, Rheinmetall Defence Electronics carries out German Army NH90 training and Thales owns and operates three NH90 simulator centres in Germany, at Bückeburg, Fassburg and Holzdorf. The simulators are used for initial flight training as well as conversion training for UH-1D and BO 105 aircrew. Sixty-five per cent of their flight training takes place on the full flight simulators.

The EADS defence and security company, Cassidian will support both the Tiger and NH90 operations in Afghanistan with its deployable integrated Operation Support System (OSS) that is designed to enable large fleet support across joint operations through data replication between servers. The requirements of the system include support of the air wing with pre-flight tactical preparation and mission planning, with mission re-planning, management and monitoring during flight, and post flight mission analysis and de-briefing.

The system will also support the technical with pre-flight technical preparation, fleet management and aircraft configuration management. It will provide operations support during flight and post-flight aircraft data analysis and maintenance support and planning. IT security includes accreditation to NATO secret for tactical operations and NATO restricted for tactical support.

The functional needs driven by CONOPS capabilities mission management are network based multi-mission/multi-aircraft planning, open interfaces for information exchange with C4ISR systems, ATC, ground-to-air radio data link capability, IFR and VFR planning and information exchange for Joint and Combined planning.

The Cassidian Operational Support System will be deployed to Afghanistan with the Tiger and NH90 helicopters. (Cassidian)

Cassidian is also responsible for proving map services, aeronautical data and obstacle provision, all of which is delivered by paperless Interactive Electronic Technical Documentation (IETD). The company also provides training for air crew, technical operators and system administrators, one week of which is computer based, one-week mission related and two days of technical training.

The sheltered version of the OSS that is designed for deployed operations is equipped with its own power supply and air conditioning system for all climate zones, four of which will be delivered to support Tiger ASGARD and FwdAirMedEvac equipped NH90 operations in Afghanistan. The German helicopters will operate via the German Army C3I System (FüInfoSys H), for both MEDEVAC and armed support missions.

Two of the shelters will be used for tactical support and mission planning manned by three operators and a mission commander. All of the data can be acquired by any of the operators on desktop displays once the tactical information has been released by the S2, while the ‘big picture’ is projected on to a large screen on one wall of the module. All the data is downloaded the pilot’s mobile Data Terminal (MDT) and inserted in the cockpit. The operators can log into the system by using task specific IDs for threat monitoring, ATC and mission data communications.

The other two shelters will be used for technical and logistical support, which will include SAP flight data for monitoring aircraft hours, defects, maintenance schedules etc, and weapons fit. The data can also be downloaded from the shelter’s server to a ruggedised laptop which enables flexible independent mission and technical support for use at a forward operating base. A total of eight shelters are being delivered to the German armed forces technical-logistical training centre for rotary-wing aircraft at , prior four of them being deployed to Afghanistan.

The OSS systems will be updated in 2013 to support Full Operating Capability (FOC) NH90 operations and the CH-53GA. The system will also be delivered to Spain for use with its Tiger HAD and to Finland to support its NH90 fleet.

At the same time as the German Army Aviation’s Tiger and NH90 deployment to Afghanistan, a major reorganization of the German armed forces rotary-wing assets will be taking place. This will result in the CH-53GS/GA fleet will be transferred to the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) while all of the NH90s will be operated by the German Army Aviation, although is smaller numbers than originally foreseen.

The Tiger ASGARD and NH90 FwdAirMedEvac and their operational support systems have two short years to prove their capabilities and establish a blueprint for future German armed forces rotary-wing operations.