Germany Juggles With Fleet Pressures

Jan 8, 2009
By Douglas Barrie and Robert Wal

The German military is striving to balance operational, maintenance and export pressures across its fleet--including the Tornado and Typhoon fighters and the Orion maritime patrol aircraft.

The air force is now considering whether to rescind a decision to withdraw one of its two Tornado reconnaissance squadrons from service. This conundrum stems from Berlin's ongoing commitment to support operations in Afghanistan, including the provision of Tornado recce aircraft.

If the decision to retire one of the two squadrons that make up the 51st Recce Wing is left in place, the unit would retain 23 aircraft. However, air force officials say this size of force would not be able to sustain the present level of operations in Afghanistan.

Last October, the German parliament approved the continuing Afghan deployment in support of the International Security Assistance Force at least until the end of 2009.

The German air force also wants to build up the capabilities of its units equipped with the Eurofighter Typhoon. The diversion of aircraft, originally intended for the Luftwaffe, to meet an Austrian export order affected its planning schedule. Deliveries of the so-called Tranche 2 standard will help overcome this problem.

Meanwhile, the German navy has to deal with the greater-than-anticipated maintenance and support requirements for the eight Lockheed Martin P-3C Orions purchased from the Netherlands in 2004. They were acquired to replace Atlantic maritime patrol aircraft. But the level of work needed is well beyond what was initially anticipated, according to EADS executives involved in providing support for the P-3Cs. One industry executive says the original estimate was for roughly 20,000 man-hours; instead, the fleet has so far required 80,000 hr. of work. Several P-3Cs recently underwent maintenance and support at EADS's center in Manching, Germany.

EADS and the German navy are in discussions about a "sustainment program," and some industry executives are suggesting that the purchase of new wing sets could yet be required. Cracks on the rear spar have been one of the problems.

A German navy officer says the "eight P-3s were 20 years old when they were purchased from the Netherlands; 20 years means about 50% of the aircraft's life." He also notes that the age of the aircraft was reflected in the price paid.

At the other end of the age spectrum, the air forceýýýs first operational Eurofighter unit is fielding its initial batch of Tranche 2 aircraft. The increasing airframe number will allow the wing to expand training for roles beyond air policing, which now absorbs most of the unitýýýs capacity.

The U.K. was the first Typhoon user to receive a Tranche 2 version; the handover took place in October.

The German wing--which is tasked with the national and NATO quick-reaction aircraft (QRA) role--is still short the full complement of 24 aircraft it is supposed to operate. Some of the Eurofighters originally slated for the wing were diverted to the Austrian export deal.

"We have [limited] aircraft today, and the air policing role requires the jets, so we are not in a position to build up [other roles] faster," says Lt. Col. Andreas Pfeiffer, the commander of Fighter Wing 74. Additional Tranche 2 versions will be delivered to the unit this year as it builds to the 24-aircraft target. The wing currently has only 15 or 16 pilots trained on the Eurofighter.

For the round-the-clock, seven-day-a-week air-policing task, four aircraft are required: Two serve the QRA mission, with the other two acting as backup airframes. The QRAs are armed with two Diehl BGT Iris-T imaging infrared-guided air-to-air missiles. No active radar-guided weapons are carried.

Photo credit of German navy's P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft: DOUGLAS BARRIE/AW&ST

AVIATION WEEK Copyright 2008, The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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