The German government plans to buy 60 new Chinook CH-47F military helicopters built at Boeing’s Ridley Park, Delaware County, assembly plant for about 5 billion euros ($5.27 billion), according to news media in Germany.
The order, the largest Chinook acquisition by a foreign government in recent years, would help keep workers busy while the Pentagon is debating the long-term future of an upgrade program for existing Chinooks, which Boeing has said is important to the plant.
With over 4,600 production workers, engineers, and managers, the Boeing works is the largest industrial employer remaining in the Philadelphia area, occupying a sprawling site between the Delaware River and I-95.
Boeing has agreed to meet the German government’s requirements for a “Heavy Lift Helicopter,” including specifications for refueling by air, according to an April 24 account in the newspaper Bild am Sonntag (Sunday Picture). German mechanics at the European aerospace group Airbus will oversee the copters’ maintenance. Boeing says 20 nations operate a total of 950 Chinooks worldwide, including eight NATO allies.
The paper said the government of German chancellor Olaf Scholz expects to formally present the purchase plan to the national parliament next week. Boeing spokesperson Brett Anker said comments on the possible purchase would have to come from the German government, adding that no formal announcement has been made.
Germany is rearming as Moscow has threatened NATO members that have sent weapons to Ukraine to resist a Russian invasion launched in February. Germany is among the countries that have aided Ukraine. Scholz has committed to spending more than $100 billion on beefing up the German armed forces while also sending war material to Ukraine.
The Boeing helicopters were chosen by Scholz over rival Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky CH-53K model aircraft, which is newer, but one-third more expensive. The first Chinooks, replacing an earlier generation of Sikorskys, are expected to arrive no sooner than 2025.
Philadelphia is a longtime center of the helicopter industry, which also includes a Leonardo (AgustaWestland) plant next to Northeast Philadelphia Airport, that has been expanding with help from military contracts and a Boeing joint venture in recent years. Owner Lockheed Martin announced the closing of its Sikorsky plant near Coatesville in 2020. That plant made mostly civilian helicopters, along with some of the Marine One helicopters used to ferry presidents.
Germany’s arming, along with neighboring states also in the path of potential Russian attacks, has meant new orders for arms merchants such as Boeing. Germany’s armed forces had been kept relatively small since that nation rebuilt its forces after World War II.
Defense minister Christine Lambrecht plans to formally present the Boeing purchase to the national parliament next week, Bild reported. Leaders of the prime minister’s Social Democratic party are supportive and have noted the Chinooks also have non-wartime uses, such as carrying disaster relief supplies. But the opposition Christian Democrats are expected to resist the Scholz government’s attempt to choose all weapons programs without subjecting individual purchases to parliamentary approval, the paper added.
The Pentagon in 2017 had announced a 20-year upgrade program for Chinooks, designed to enable the helicopters to carry heavier tanks and other loads, which seemingly secured the plant’s future. But military budgets in the second half of the Trump administration trimmed the long-term upgrade program, along with spending on tanks and other weapons familiar from past U.S. wars.
Pentagon officials had instead urged Congress to spend more on long-range artillery, computer, and space weapons that U.S. defense planners say are needed to counter future threats.
However, Congress members from both parties in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware have lobbied hard to keep Chinook upgrades and encouraged new helicopter orders by Special Forces and other U.S. military and allied forces, on behalf of the Boeing plant, which also makes Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft for the Marines and other buyers.
Germany is the latest of a series of U.S. military allies to purchase aircraft from the Delaware County plant. The flags of Asian and European nations with their own Chinook or Osprey fleets have been displayed along the hangar-sized, air-conditioned main assembly line of the Boeing plant.