Germany to deliver 6 Sea King Mk41 helicopters to Ukraine

Germany is set to significantly enhance Ukraine's military capabilities with the transfer of six Sea King Mk41 helicopters, marking the first time the country has made such a donation. These helicopters, around 50 years old and phased out in favor of the NH 90 NTH Sea Lions in 2020, are slated for delivery starting in the second quarter of 2024.
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Germanys first delivery of Sea King MK41 helicopters to Ukraine The Sea King is a proven and reliable helicopter that will assist the Ukrainians in various capacities, from Black Sea reconnaissance to transporting soldiers (Picture source: Wikimedia)

Announced by German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius on January 23 in Berlin, this transfer is part of Germany's sustained support for Ukraine amid Russian aggression. Pistorius emphasized the versatility of the Sea King helicopters, which are expected to aid in various operations, from Black Sea reconnaissance to soldier transportation. This declaration was made during a meeting of the Ukraine Defence Contact Group, where over 50 states and organizations collaborate on supporting Ukraine’s frontline requirements. Germany, alongside France, has been leading this coalition with a focus on air defense since November.

In addition to the helicopters, Germany will also provide a comprehensive package that includes spare parts and pilot training to be conducted in Germany. This is part of a larger commitment by Germany, as Chancellor Olaf Scholz informed U.S. President Joe Biden earlier in the month about Germany's plans to supply Ukraine with over seven billion euros in military goods in 2024.

"The Sea King is a proven and reliable helicopter that will assist the Ukrainians in various capacities, from Black Sea reconnaissance to transporting soldiers," Pistorius said during the Ukraine Defence Contact Group meeting. "This is Germany’s first delivery of this type."

It’s important to note that Ukraine has prior experience with Sea King helicopters. In January 2023, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov announced the arrival of these helicopters in Ukraine, where they were integrated into the naval forces. This followed an earlier initiative by the United Kingdom, which had supplied three similar helicopters to Kyiv. These helicopters flew from British territory to Ukraine, the first arriving in January of the previous year and the last in May. Built-in the late 70s to early 80s, these helicopters were part of the British Navy fleet and were decommissioned in 2015-2016 when this model was retired from the British fleet. In the Ukrainian Navy, they are now used for search and rescue missions.

However, there are some concerns regarding the state of the Sea King helicopters in the German Navy, primarily due to their advanced age. As early as 2014, German media reports highlighted significant issues affecting these essential helicopters for naval operations. Of the 21 Sea King helicopters in service, only three were currently capable of flight, representing less than 15% of the total fleet. This critical situation is mainly due to wear and tear and the obsolescence of the helicopters, first introduced to the Navy in 1975.

Maintaining these helicopters in operational condition has become increasingly demanding and costly over time. In 2006, it took between 50 and 60 hours of maintenance to ensure an hour of flight, but this ratio has now dramatically increased from 1 to 120. This significant increase in maintenance time reveals the challenges associated with managing aging military equipment.

The Westland WS-61 Sea King is a British-licensed version of the American Sikorsky S-61 helicopter, built by Westland Helicopters. It notably differs from the American version, featuring Rolls-Royce Gnome engines (derived from the US General Electric T58), British-made anti-submarine warfare systems, and a fully computerized flight control system.

Initially designed for anti-submarine warfare (ASW) missions, the Sea King was also adapted by Westland into a variant known as the Commando, used for troop transport.

The Sea King is a British military helicopter primarily used for maritime search and rescue operations. It was introduced into service in 1969 and remained active with the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy until 2018, also being used by several other countries including Canada, Australia, India, and Belgium. Known for its reliability and versatility, the Sea King was deployed in a wide range of roles, from anti-submarine warfare and troop transport to search and rescue.

This twin-engine, single-rotor helicopter, manufactured by Westland Helicopters, a subsidiary of the British company GKN, reaches a maximum speed of about 150 knots (173 mph) and has a maximum range of around 500 nautical miles (578 miles). It is equipped with various sensors and equipment for its primary role in maritime search and rescue, including radar, a forward-looking infrared (FLIR) camera, and a rescue hoist. It can carry up to 22 passengers or a combination of passengers and cargo.

Powered by two Rolls-Royce Gnome H1400-1 turboshaft engines, each rated at 1,400 horsepower, the Sea King also features an automatic flight control system for stability and navigation, with a radar warning receiver, a missile approach warning system, and defensive countermeasures. The helicopter typically has a crew of four, including a pilot, a co-pilot, and two crew members.

It has been used in several conflicts and military operations, such as the Falklands War, the Gulf War, and Operation Iraqi Freedom, as well as in humanitarian and disaster relief missions.