The German Ministry of Defence today, announced the procurement of thirty one Sea Tiger naval attack helicopters from NH Industries. The helicopter order will consist of both the delivery of the vehicles and an after-market service package. The after-market service package will provide spares, training and ‘accessories’ likely to mean maintenance, upgrade access and associated training literature. The whole order will cost €2.7 billion, a sum authorized by the Bundestag’s budgetary committee on the 19th of November. The package is expected to be delivered by the end of 2025. The Sea Tiger naval assault helicopter will be delivered by NH Industries, currently 62.5% owned by France’s Airbus. The Tiger naval attack helicopter will work alongside the German Navy’s in service Sea Lion transport helicopter. The two naval platforms are variants of the NH90 battlefield transport helicopter adapted for use on hanger fitted frigates. The Sea Lion platform currently fills the role as an unarmed ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore transit vehicle, capable of providing additional search & rescue services. The Sea Tiger is instead, configured as a naval attack helicopter capable of mounting both anti-ship and anti-submarine weaponry. The Sea Tiger will replace the German Navy’s current naval attack helicopter, the Sea Lynx Mk 88A, formerly produced by the now defunct Anglo-Italian helicopter manufacturer, AgustaWestland.
The NH90 Sea Tiger frigate launched naval attack helicopter is the German Navy’s designation of the NH90 NATO Frigate Helicopter (NFH). The Sea Tiger uses the body of the NH90 along with its internal systems. The only differences between the NH90 and NH90 NFH base designs, lie in the NH90 NFH’s more compact design and its ability to deploy naval weaponry. The Sea Tiger’s NH90 NFH construction possesses its uniquely compact build as a requirement for frigate based operations. The vehicle’s credentials at sea are maximized through its ability to cope in adverse weather conditions, provided by the composite materials used in its manufacture. The use of composite materials has led to an impressive fatigue and damage tolerance, vital for maritime utilization. The endurance granted by the composites additionally enable longer times between maintenance, a key factor in suitability for nautical deployment due to the relative support isolation experienced by ocean going vessels. The isolation also requires a platform with a significant mission run time, the Sea Tiger has an acceptable mission endurance time of five hours with standard fuel tanks.
The Sea Tiger’s naval weapons payload, the platform’s central distinguishing feature from the unarmed Sea Lion, must fit within the helicopter’s maximum take-off allowance coming in at 10,000kg. The weapons must also satisfy the vehicle’s operational load capacity, that weight measurement pertaining to the acceptable load presented by fuel, weapons, ammunition and crew. The weapons system chosen by the German Navy is as yet undisclosed, it is likely however, that the navy will fit MBDA’s Sea Venom anti-ship missiles and Raytheon’s Mk 46 NATO standard torpedoes. The Sea Venom is the cutting edge successor to the Sea Skua, currently used on the German Navy’s Sea Lynx attack helicopters. The Mk 46 is the required torpedo for all NATO navies, making it an almost certain inclusion. The installation of the Sea Venom on the Sea Tiger would be a natural progression from the use of the Sea Skua on the Sea Lynx, upgrading two systems at the same time. The Mk 46, currently manufactured by Raytheon are also already used on the Sea Lynx, to not include it on the Sea Lynx’s successor would be an odd if not unusual decision.
NH Industries, sole producer of the NH90 and its derivatives, is a French based multi-national firm established by French, German, Italian and Dutch corporations in 1992, to design and built a standardized battlefield transport helicopter for NATO member states. The project had its genesis in 1985 and sought a close relationship with NATO, a relationship which has seen the company retain its alliance links through the NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA). The objective of NSPA, being to agree on procurement standards for NATO members and to ascertain if newly acquired systems meet NATO specifications. The company is three-way owned by the modern-day ancestors of the array of multi-national corporations which have been involved in the project. The ownership distribution is as follows, Airbus Helicopter’s French and German divisions own a combined 62.5%, Italy’s Leonardo owns 32% and the Dutch aviation firm, Fokker Aerostructures owns 5.5%. Today’s order, when received by NH Industries will be processed through its facilities in Europe. The company’s expected 2025 delivery of the thirty one strong helicopter order, will likely see the Sea Tiger as among the first aircraft to be launched from Germany’s new MKS-180 frigate fleet, scheduled to be delivered between 2028 and 2030. The programme is good news for NH Industries as it adjusts to operate in what could potentially be a difficult decade.