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The 9th Airbus Trade Media Briefing Held Digitally Due to COVID-19

Issue 104

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Airbus Defense and Space hosted its traditional Trade Media Briefing digitally from its Headquarters in Munich this year. During the live-streamed event that was held on December 9, 2020, Airbus officials shared the latest information about the Eurofighter Tranche 5 and the current status of Airbus helicopter programs.

Delivering the opening speech, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Airbus Defense and Space, Dirk HOKE, noted the importance of the new Quadriga contract with the German Government for 38 Eurofighters, stating that the new agreement will contribute significantly to the intranational development of the Future Combat Air System (FCAS). "We have recently signed the Quadriga contract with the German Government for 38 Eurofighters. This is a significant milestone towards the Future Combat Air System (FCAS). We also signed the E-Scan contract before to equip the Eurofighter with an Electronically Scanned Radar. All these milestones will lead consistently to the next project that we work with the German Government called Long Term Evolution (LTE), where we look at Tranche 5, which is the next evolution of Eurofighter. Building additional capabilities into the Eurofighter and building the roadmap towards the FCAS is very important for Airbus in these critical times. We signed the FCAS Phase-1A for the Joint Concept Study at the beginning of this year. We are very confident that next year we will be able to sign Phase-1B, laying the foundation to finishing the demonstrators in 2016-2017."

Eurofighter Long-Term Evolution Program and Tranche 5

Speaking after Dirk HOKE, Head of Airbus Combat Aircraft Business Growth, Wolfgang GAMMEL shared detailed information about Airbus's ongoing procurement processes and the future Eurofighter development programs. “The first big contract this year was the E-Scan contract. We still have many aircraft in operation with M-Scan Radar, which is still the benchmark in terms of output and performance but nevertheless, two core nations, Germany, and Spain, decided to take the next step with our E-Scan radar. Both Nations decided to begin the year with the development and procurement contract for more than 110 radar sets. The overall value of this contract was € 2.5 billion and the most important point besides its figures is that Germany got back to assume the system design responsibility of this new technology. As many of you know the German government determined sectors in key technology areas. Sensors and Sensor Fusion is defined as a key technology by Germany and that's why we are really proud and happy to bring system design capability back to Germany.”

GAMMEL stated that Spain also joined this contract and Germany will implement this new radar to the 110 aircraft of the existing Tranche 2 and 3A fleet. “This is very important because this also underlines and demonstrates to other nations operating the M-Scan radar that there is a retrofit option for the aircraft. It really brings the aircraft onto the next level to cope with threats that our customers may face in the future.

Stating that Quadra will bring the Eurofighter program to the next level as the backbone of the Luftwaffe, "Quadra will rejuvenate the production and development program in Germany" said Wolfgang GAMMEL. “The next contract we just recently signed is the famous Quadriga with Germany. The German Air Force decided to replace the Tranche 1 aircraft with new ones. Of course, we had a discussion about retrofitting or upgrading them, but we are really proud that Germany decided to buy new aircraft. The 38 aircraft are not exactly for replacement because Germany decided to purchase three new aircraft with special instrumentation for flight tests. Also, some time ago we had, unfortunately, an accident, and the German Air Force lost two aircraft, so the contract also includes two additional aircraft as replacements for the lost aircraft. The Quadriga aircraft as the backbone of the German Air Force will of course have the E-Scan radar together with further upgrades.”

GAMMEL also emphasized that Airbus will offer Tranche 5 standard for Germany’s Tornado replacement program and this standard will comprise all the latest Tranche 4 capabilities including additional LTE improvements. “What’s next after Tranche 4 and Quadriga is the Long-Term Evolution (LTE). This does not mean in one second to the other we will have a completely new aircraft on the spot. It will be an incremental build approach. First of all, we will enable the aircraft from an infrastructure point of view to take more capabilities on board. The Long-Term Evolution Eurofighter capability growth path includes overall systems growth allowing Enhanced Sensors and Defensive Aids, Digital Stealth and Electronic Attack, Next Generation Cockpit, Remote Carrier Integration as well as Aerodynamic Modification Kit (AMK). Eurofighter is already a state-of-the-art very agile aircraft but with the AMK retrofit, we are aiming for faster implementation of external modifications to increase the flight envelope. This future standard will be offered to the Luftwaffe as a potential replacement for 90 Tornado aircraft. Also, with the LTE and Tranche 5, Eurofighter will play a significant role in the FCAS development.”

“We do have, at the moment, two export campaigns which are in a very hot phase. One is in Finland and the other one in Switzerland. The Finland campaign is driven by MOD UK and BAE Systems, Switzerland campaign is driven by the German MOD and Airbus. Just some weeks ago we delivered our second proposal to Switzerland. The configuration will be the exact same configuration that we offer to Germany with Quadriga. Regarding the offset, we are in a position to offer Switzerland the full final assembly line which means aircraft assembled in Switzerland for Switzerland. We strongly believe that this final assembly line provides the very first day or the aircraft, ground support systems, and much more important the later service phase. All of this concept is completely fit into the 6 billion Swiss francs (CHF) budget. The Halcón project aims to replace the obsolete F-18A aircraft of the Canary Islands’ Fighter Wing. During the initial offer phase, we were also asked by the Spanish customer to make an additional proposal to include 20 new aircraft. The configuration is also Tranche 4 with E-Scan. We would be really happy to get this deal done next year. Because it would underpin the very strong commitment from the Spanish Air Force for co-program. With Halcón, we negotiated all terms and conditions with our suppliers, so the ordering window is still open.” In the last part of his speech GAMMEL shared that Germany will use the Tranche 1 aircraft until 2024-2025 minimum and stated that there is absolutely no intention to sell them or use them for other purposes. 

2020 Performance of the Airbus Helicopters and its Future Targets

Regarding the current and future helicopter programs of Airbus, Matthieu LOUVOT, Head of Airbus Helicopters Programs, made an introductory speech, starting with how much Airbus was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. "2020 was a very special year. The whole helicopter market suffered from the COVID-19 crisis. Orders downed 40-50% globally. Airbus helicopters did rather well in this environment, but nonetheless, our bookings and orders are not as dynamic as the previous years. I am happy to say our helicopters actively contributed during the crisis to get the people to hospitals or brought supplies to provinces isolated by the crisis."

Sharing information about the Airbus Helicopter's activities in 2020, "Airbus has continued to invest in innovations to develop the programs of the future. We certified the civilian version of the H160 this year, which will be the base of the future military version, the H160M. We also continued to work on the future multi-mission maritime drone, VSR700, and prepared offers to launch the Tiger Mk3 program." LOUVOT said.

LOUVOT added that the H160M would replace five different types of helicopters in the French Armed Forces for a total of 169 aircraft when the whole program is completed. Regarding the Tiger Mk3, LOUVOT emphasized that it will be the best Attack Helicopter in the world in its generation. "It will bring the latest sensors, weapon systems, state-of-the-art avionics into the most agile attack helicopter platform today. Tiger is extraordinarily survivable and agile; if we bring that together with the state-of-the-art mission systems, we will get a fantastic helicopter. We are working with the three nations invested in the Tiger helicopter, France, Germany, and Spain, to prepare the launch of this program. Furthermore, the French government agreed to launch the Special Forces version of the NH90 helicopter, which will be capable of operating under various adverse conditions. It will be the first series of helicopters that are tailored for the needs of the Special Forces." LOUVOT said. 

"2020 was a very active year despite the COVID-19. We got some major orders on our key programs. The German Navy ordered 31 Naval NH90 helicopters. Another major step was the order of 17 Lakota Helicopters by the US Army. It will also introduce the upgrade version, UH72B. We also delivered the first H145 to Ecuador, the first H145M HForce to Serbia and Hungary, and the first NH90 to the Spanish Air Force."

H145M Helicopter and the Ongoing Development Program

Head of H145 Program at Airbus Helicopters, Axel HUMPERT, gave a brief introduction about the H145 helicopter and its development process. Stating that the program began to meet the German Army Special Operation Forces' needs, the current fleet has accumulated over 30,000 flight hours after five years of successful service. "The development of the H145M Battlefield Support Helicopter was started with a contract from the German Army Special Operation Forces, and the first delivery was in 2015. The armed version of H145M has been operational since 2019. EASA certification of the H145M goes back to May 2015 when the helicopter was delivered to the German Army. The certification process of the new five-bladed version of the H145M is expected to be completed in the last quarter of 2021. There are currently 45 operational helicopters, and the total fleet has accumulated over 30,000 flight hours."

The H145M is a versatile multi-purpose helicopter with 240 km/h (130 knots) cruise speed, 638 km (345 nm) maximum range, and 3,32 hours endurance at MTOW (Maximum Take-Off Weight). In terms of flight performance, it has an outstanding capability that allows 2,332 meters (7,650 ft) HOGE (Hovering Out of Ground Effect) ceiling at MTOW and ISA+20° (International Standard Atmosphere). The main features of the helicopter are the same as the civilian version. It has two FADEC-controlled Safran Arriel 2E engines, 3,800 kg (8,377 lb.) MTOW, 1,600 kg (3.527 lb.) max cargo sling/swing load, - 45°C to ISA+35° (limited to +50°C) external temperature envelope, 20,000 ft (6,096 km) HIGE (Hovering in Ground Effect) operational ceiling.

When talking about the contract performance of the H145 helicopter, HUMPERT stated that 52 H145Ms have been ordered up till now. 16 for German Special Forces, 5 delivered to the Royal Thai Navy, 6 in the process to be delivered to the Serbian Air Force and 3 for the Serbian Police, 20 for the Hungary Air Force (18 already delivered and there will be another 2 coming early next year), and 2 have been delivered to the Luxembourg Armed Forces this year. Together with the helicopter's performance, HUMPERT also shared information about the HForce weapon system designed explicitly for the H145 helicopter. "HForce is a weapons platform that Airbus developed specifically for the H145M. It is a cost-effective solution to weaponize Airbus Helicopters' commercial derivative platforms. It can be attached and removed when needed. HForce is a non-proprietary system that allows various options for the integration of customer-defined weapon systems. We have already shown that for the variety of our customers. Upon the Serbian Air Force's request, their weapon system and ammunition were integrated into the system and have proven successful."

Stating that tactical deployment is one of the key requirements of the Armed Forces, with easy and quick deploy ability, HUMPERT emphasized that due to its very compact design and architecture, it is possible to carry 6 H145Ms with an AN-124, 1 H145M with an A400M, and 4 H145Ms with a C-17 Globemaster III Transport Aircraft. Moreover, the H145M is, it can be mission ready within 30min from unloading. As part of the Future Developments roadmap, the new five-bladed main rotor, which has been recently certified on the commercial version, will also be implemented on the M version. The certification process is expected to be completed at the end of 2021. "New H145M will also feature the latest Airbus Software System called Helionix, which enables the aircraft to work with the five-bladed main rotor. The new rotor necessitates some adjustments of the autopilot and other functions. This simple modification provides +150kg additional useful load." said HUMPERT.

Future projects will also include new survivability improvements such as the EWS Self Protection System with Radar Warning Receiver (RWR), Engine Infrared Suppressor (IRS), In-flight rapid obscuration system, and the Expedient Repair/Battle Damage Repair system. In the next steps of the development process, HUMPERT stated that Airbus has planned to offer a Netcentric Warfare capability, a better field management system CESMO/Link 16 Networking, Manned-Unmanned-Teaming (MUM-T), robust and agile line of sight (LOS) and non-line of sight (NLOS) data links, Sensor to Shooter Capabilities, as well as Integration of Air-to-ground missiles.

Current Status of the NH90 Program and Ongoing Acquisition Processes

As the last speaker of the event, Rüdiger GEORG, Key Account Manager of the German Navy, shared details about the current status of the NH90 Program. As of 2020, 14 different Nations have placed orders for 597 NH90s in total, and so far, 434 NH90 helicopters are delivered to 13 Nations. Aside from that, 425 Tactical Transport Helicopter (TTH) variants were ordered by 12 Nations. Among these, 333 TTHs have been delivered and are currently operated by 11 Nations. For Maritime missions, 172 NATO Frigate Helicopters (NFH) were ordered by 7 Nations. Currently, 101 NFH variants have been delivered to 6 Nations. Rüdiger GEORG also underlined that as of October 2020, NH90 helicopters flew about 275,000 hours (205,000 hours by TTH, 70,000 by NFH) in total. 

Looking at the helicopter's evolution over time, GEORG stated that the basic vehicle, which is common for the TTH and NFH variants, had two major evolution streams. The first one is a software release that includes improvements to the existing SW capabilities and implementation of NATO Mode 5 IFF to fly in (ICAO Amendment 85) air traffic. The second is the comprehensive Avionic/Software capability evolution, which aims to implement new features for the Mid Life Upgrade (MLU), including Lifetime Extension based on the end-users' enhanced and more complex mission requirements. GEORG indicated that these evolutions are currently being discussed between the NH90 user nations, NAHEMA Management Agency, NHI industries, and its partner companies, while the scope and timeline of these improvements are not yet defined.

"For the Tactical Transport Helicopter (TTH), these evolutions are embedded in national initiatives like the TTH Operational Revision (THOR) on the German side (since 2019) and the Special Forces variant on the French side (since September 2020)," said Rüdiger GEORG pointing out that Airbus also signed a contract with the German Army for the NH90 TTH Capability Improvements, and further contract negotiations are ongoing for additional planned upgrades.

As the final wrap up, GEORG shared information about the NATO Frigate Helicopter (NFH) variant of the NH90 helicopter. The most recently ordered variant is the Sea Tiger helicopter for the German Navy. This model contains all the latest evolutions (comprehensive obsolescence treatment, new EOS, improved ESM and Sonic System, and external life rafts) and will replace the Sea Lynx helicopters. GEORG said, "The latest NH90 NFH Sea Tiger contract was signed between the German Navy and Airbus on November 27, 2020, for 31 NFH in ASW/ASuW configuration (30 for German Navy, 1 for German Armed Forces Test Center) called Multi-Role Frigate Helicopter (MRFH). The first deliveries are expected to begin in 2025 and be completed in 2030. The Sea Tiger will be based on the Sea Lion variant, which is currently the most modern NH90 in the fleet. Lion MRFH will be integrated with the latest Comprehensive Obsolescence Treatment Capabilities such as new-generation Electro-Optical System with Laser Target Designation capabilities, improved ESM and Sonic System, and improved Anti-Ship Missile"