Print Friendly, PDF & Email

A profound system change is currently taking place in the helicopter division of the German Navy. Over the next few years, the tried and tested Sea King Mk41 and Sea Lynx Mk88A helicopters will be replaced by the NH90 NGEN (company name of the German naval variant) in the NTH (Naval Transport Helicopter, Sea Lion) and MRFH (Multi-Role Frigate Helicopter, Sea Tiger) variants .

At the same time, this requires a change in the previous way of thinking and working, as well as the "inveterate" application procedures, since the NH90 NGEN offers extensive new, up-to-date capabilities. In order to be able to use them optimally, the crews and superiors on land and on board have to rethink - away from the old, analog helicopter with a focus on aviation handling, to a new, digital helicopter with a focus on the optimal use of the overall system.

The previous use of the helicopter

The Sea King Mk41 and Sea Lynx Mk88A helicopters are used for all operational missions with a fixed crew and distribution of tasks.

The Sea King Mk41 crew consists of two pilots, an aircraft operations officer and an on-board mechanic. The on-board mechanic has, among other things, technical training at a master level and medical training as a paramedic.

Arrival of an NH90 NTH in Nordholz (Photo: Bundeswehr / MFG 3)

The crew of the Sea Lynx Mk88A consists of two pilots and a helicopter location master. The left pilot has advanced tactical training as he operates the radar and navigation system and leads the tactical mission. The helicopter location master has specialist training in the field of underwater location at master level.

There are support systems for pilots in both helicopters, such as automatic altitude control or automatic hovering over water. Due to the age of the helicopters, the range of functions no longer corresponds to today's possibilities. Support from the second pilot is required, especially at night or when the weather is bad. In both helicopters, the operation of the radar, the electro-optical sensor and the navigation system is restricted to one workstation. Thus, in a tactical or SAR (Search and Rescue) scenario, the main workload is on one person.

Umbruch NH 90 NGEN

The NH90 NGEN is introduced to the navy in various setup states. The first machines of the NTH transport helicopter are delivered with the "Step 1" stand, which has certain functional restrictions. The following helicopters will be delivered with the "Step 2" stand, which fully meets the requirements of the Navy. The remaining “Step 1” machines are then converted to “Step 2”. This setup state shows all the capabilities of the French NH90 NFH (NATO Frigate Helicopter).

The combat helicopter MRFH is based on this French set-up state, which displays the set-up state "Step 3" with additional functions (sensors and effectors). The full range of functions for the MRFH will be achieved with "Step 4".

Compared to Sea King Mk41 and Sea Lynx Mk88A, NTH and MRFH offer a variety of new sensors and much needed effectors. These are all configured, controlled and operated via the mission system. This gives electronics and information management a much higher priority than before.


With the European Naval Radar (ENR) maritime surveillance radar, the NH90 NGEN offers new possibilities that go far beyond the previous systems. The 360-degree radar has a range of over 150 NM and can schematically map and classify surface contacts in the Inverse Synthetic Aparture Radar (ISAR) operating mode. Another new feature is the ability to query the radar transponders of aircraft (Identification Friend Foe) and to display the information in the mission system.

In addition, there is a more powerful electro-optical and infrared sensor (EO / IR), with which a distance measurement and thus the exact position of a contact is possible.

Furthermore, the NTH and MRFH have a facility for electronic combat (EloKa) with which signals can be detected, analyzed, assigned and recorded. This also includes the detection of threats and the initiation of countermeasures, such as the emission of radar or infrared decoys against an attack by guided missiles.

The automatic identification system (AIS) is available as an additional sensor. The system developed for seafaring enables the display of ship contacts with extensive additional information. In addition, aircraft with special roles, such as. B. SAR helicopters are shown in this overarching system.

The MRFH must be used as an on-board helicopter in a network, especially in the area of ​​underwater naval warfare. Like the Sea Lynx Mk88A, it has a diving sonar that is used in hover and can search for underwater contacts at different depths. In contrast to the Sea Lynx Mk88A, the MRFH's diving sonar works in the low-frequency range, which leads to significantly higher detection ranges. The MRFH can also drop, control and evaluate sonar buoys. The combination of low-frequency diving sonar and sonar buoys will allow the use of modern bi- and multistatic location methods with long ranges in the future.

NH90 NTH on the apron (Photo: Bundeswehr / MFG 3)


Up to two heavy machine guns M3M can be installed in both the NTH and the MRFH. Up to now, it was only possible to fit an M3M, so that the operational options are also expanding in this area.

Like the Sea Lynx Mk88A, the MRFH also has the ability to fight enemy underwater targets with modern MU90 torpedoes. In addition, the MRFH can be armed with naval guided missiles, as was the case with the Sea Lynx Mk88A until 2014. However, these are not part of the NH90 project, but have to be procured in a separate process. The new guided missile has a significantly longer range and can also be used against land targets. This requires the adaptation or new development of appropriate operational procedures.


In addition to the larger number of sensors and effectors, NTH and MRFH have new radio and data connections such as satellite communication and tactical data link. All of these devices are operated and controlled centrally via the mission system. With the switch to NH90 NGEN, the "button knowledge" changes from earlier, predominantly analogue systems to a significantly more modern, extensive and digital "menu and system knowledge". In order to be able to use the NH90 NGEN weapon system effectively and efficiently, it is essential to find your way around the 2,000 menu pages quickly, reliably and reliably - already in the NTH variant and even more demanding in the new MRFH variant.

The extensive electronics on board the helicopter can no longer be quickly fed with data by hand before the flight. Databases, frequency tables and digital maps are just some of the information that the system needs for effective use. This data has to be prepared with the aid of ground stations and then loaded into the helicopter with data carriers - not only for the operational area, but also for the technical operation. After the flight, data from the helicopter must be transferred to the corresponding ground stations: recorded information from the electro-optical sensors, the radar, the EloKa system, the sonar system and the technical consumption and operating data. In addition to the Nordholz naval aviation base, these ground stations must also be available at the SAR branch offices, on the task force supplies and on the frigates with embarked helicopters. For use on board, the ground station is supplemented by a mobile system for the maintenance, logistics and operational management of the NH90 NGEN.

Information management

The larger number of sensors, effectors and communication links inevitably also increases the amount of information data. The efficient internal and external management of this information is the most important prerequisite for the effective use of this modern helicopter.

Internal information management is about who operates which sensor and who uses or interprets which data provided by the mission system. This is made possible by the various multifunction displays in the helicopter, which can display different data and functions depending on the application scenario. External information management is about who sends which data to external bodies (e.g. ship or a control point on land) or requests them. From step 2, the NH90 NGEN offers significantly expanded capacities for the creation of situation maps and especially the transmission, for example by installing an improved tactical data link. Against the background of the rapid and necessary development in the digitalization of leadership skills, this is an important and decisive prerequisite for future applications. However, data exchange via link is currently increasing the workload enormously. There is an operator on board ships or maritime surveillance aircraft who does nothing else but operate the link system.

Eine Konzentration all dieser Aufgaben auf eine Arbeitsstation, wie dies bei Sea King Mk41 und Sea Lynx Mk88A der Fall war, ist ablauftechnisch nicht mehr darstellbar. Im NH90 NGEN ist die Bedienung des Missionssystems an jedem Arbeitsplatz im Hubschrauber möglich, sodass die vielfältigen Aufgaben von mehreren Besatzungsmitgliedern gleichzeitig bearbeitet werden können. Je nachdem wie anspruchsvoll die Mission ist, sind neben dem Piloten ein bis drei weitere Operateure/Systembediener notwendig, um den Hubschrauber effektiv einzusetzen. Am unteren Ende des Leistungsspektrums steht dabei ein Transportflug an Land (bei Tag, ohne Bedrohung), bei dem eine Besatzung von drei Personen ausreicht, um lediglich eine Navigationsroute abzufliegen. Am oberen Ende des Spektrums steht ein taktischer Sonareinsatz an Bord einer Fregatte (bei Nacht, in einem taktischen Szenario mit Bedrohung). Hier sind vier Personen notwendig, um ein Luft-, Überwasser- und Unterwasserlagebild zu erstellen und zu halten, sowie schnell auf Lageänderungen zu reagieren. Dementsprechend muss die Besatzungszusammenstellung flexibel genug sein, um die unterschiedlichen Missionsanforderungen abdecken zu können. Zusätzlich ist es in manchen komplexen Szenarien unbedingt erforderlich, dass der linke Pilot das Missionssystem und die Sensoren zielgerichtet bedienen kann. Zukünftig werden die Einsatzmöglichkeiten also nicht mehr nur durch die Rüstrolle des Hubschraubers bestimmt, sondern vor allem durch die fachliche und systemische Qualifikation der Besatzung.

Consequences for the design areas

The consequences for the individual design areas are only shown briefly. It is essential to deal with the complexity of the weapon system and to make greater use of the similarities between the NTH and MRFH.


The great similarity between NTH and MRFH enables usage to be built up over both variants.

Training / use / exercises

The new application possibilities of the helicopters have to be determined as part of the operational test in the most demanding scenarios of underwater and surface sea warfare and then expanded and consolidated in further exercises.

Material / equipment

New skills require the procurement of additional material, such as sonar buoys or naval guided missiles. The aim must be to procure the necessary armament for a combat helicopter so that the combat against underwater and above water targets can be tried out during the operational test.


The new opportunities for multinational cooperation at the operational level, especially with other NH90 users, must be continuously tested in joint exercises. At the planning level, the acquisition and integration of new skills, e.g. modern guided missiles or torpedoes, seems more possible in a multinational network to be. Here it is important to accelerate procurement processes by mutual recognition of approval documents for timely delivery and speedy use.


The NH90 NGEN is significantly larger and heavier than the Sea Lynx Mk88A. This means that the space required for parking, maintenance and repair for the NH90 NGEN fleet is larger than the previous space requirement for the Sea King Mk41 and Sea Lynx Mk88A combined.

Due to the powerful sea target guided missiles, correspondingly large safety distances for the storage and loading and unloading of the weapons must be observed.

The infrastructure processes currently take so long that construction measures, for example for the MRFH simulator, would have to be commissioned for the helicopter before the contract was signed. Since this is not possible, alternative options may have to be considered.

Methods / procedures

The new possibilities of the NH90 NGEN in the pilot's aviation support as well as the improved sensor, effector and mission equipment allow the development of necessary new aviation and tactical procedures.

Depending on the mission, the support of technically trained personnel and the availability of a Sono ground station and an EloKa ground station are imperative for the tactical preparation and follow-up of the flights.

The operational assessment of the requirements for the procurement of decoys (chaff and flare) and corresponding effectiveness studies must be accompanied by technical ammunition expertise.

Conception / concepts

The ability to operate the mission system via multifunctional displays at all workplaces must be taken into account when compiling and qualifying the crew.

Organization / operation

The numerous IT systems offer the possibility of mapping the different application scenarios from public to classified in different constellations. This requires intensive IT support before, during and after the missions for an optimal, effective use of the helicopter.

The procedures for flight operations and operations on board task force providers and frigates have to be adapted due to the more extensive capabilities of the helicopters.

NH90 NTH while winching during a qualification flight (Photo: Airbus Helicopters / Patrick Heinz)

outlook into the future

Unmanned component

The successor to the Sea Lynx Mk88A is said to be a complete system consisting of a manned and an unmanned component, which can be used together in Manned-Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T). With the selection decision for the NH90 MRFH attack helicopter, the manned component is determined subject to parliamentary approval. The integration of MUM-T should take place in the "Step 4" setup state. The exact requirements for the unmanned component still have to be specified.

Nevertheless, it is already advisable to follow the current state of the art and to introduce and implement possible demands of the Navy in research projects. First ideas include the automated reconnaissance of contacts in a sea area as part of the surface warfare or the search for people in a sea rescue case. In both scenarios, it is helpful if the data of several sensors (radar, AIS and EO / IR) are overlaid or merged when searching in an area of ​​application. In the SAR case, this helps to increase the probability of detection and allows a first classification when searching for contacts.

In the longer term, it is conceivable to use unmanned systems as part of underwater naval warfare. In this scenario, they could, for example, spend sonar buoys and forward their signals for evaluation, serve as a relay station for the radio connection between ship and helicopter over longer distances, or also be used in teaming with a sea reconnaissance aircraft. This requires, among other things, the further development of the approval process, since dropping sonar buoys from an unmanned system will require the acceptance of a certain risk in the future.

Impetus from the conference"Underwater Defense & Security"

In order to look even further into the future, three topics are presented here that are still in a multinational development stage, but offer great potential for future applications:

Raytheon has developed an Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (UUV) that can be used to identify and destroy mines. In the final version, the UUV should only be as big as a sonar buoy. In the future, an NH90 NGEN could use up to 20 of these UUVs from the air.

The Ultra Electronics company has developed an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) that is only half the size of a standard sonar buoy. The UAV can be launched from a buoy launcher and has an hour's flight time. An NH90 NGEN could therefore launch a total of 20 UAVs or two schools of ten UAVs each to achieve the mission objectives.

The company DSG has developed super cavitating ammunition with a caliber of 12.7 mm. B. can shoot from the helicopter into the water. The design of the projectile almost completely eliminates ricochets and allows a great depth of penetration into the water. According to the manufacturer, a 12.7 mm caliber should penetrate a 20 mm steel plate after a 20 m transit through the water. The NH90 NGEN with the heavy machine gun M3M could also be used against targets in shallow water (mines, UUV, submarines or torpedoes).


The NH90 NGEN brings with it many new capabilities and considerable potential for the future. The similarity of the two versions NTH and MRFH results in operational and technical-logistical synergies. In order to be able to use the new skills effectively, a rethink is imperative. Above all, the increased requirements in the areas of information management, IT equipment and connection, support from external specialists and the fight against targets at long distances have extensive effects. These influence the composition and qualification of the crews, the processes for the preparation and follow-up of the flights as well as the complex operational procedures. The unchanged adoption of existing processes and procedures on the NH90 NGEN does not make sense, as the new capabilities cannot be used efficiently or at all.

The acceptance of the NH90 helicopter (90 stands for 1990s!) 30 years after the initial concept shows that many processes are too bureaucratic and take too long. The introduction of the NH90 NGEN offers the opportunity to review all processes and structures in order to streamline them. A rethink is also necessary here - at all levels.

Frigate captain Markus Kafurke is in the Naval Aviation Command - Planning Department Head of Principle / Helicopter Development.