COLOGNE, Germany — The German defense ministry is eyeing something of a redo of its failed acquisition strategy for new heavy cargo helicopters, banking on the U.S. foreign military sales process to yield contracts for either the Lockheed Martin King Stallion or Boeing Chinook by the end of 2022.

The strategy appears in the ministry’s latest report on major weapon systems, released this week. The previous acquisition track, abandoned in September, saw the Berlin government deal directly with the two vendors, dictating a host of special requirements for the aircraft that ended up making their offers too expensive.

By picking the FMS route, the German defense ministry is expected to work more closely with the U.S. government in the eventual purchase of a replacement for the Bundeswehr’s CH-53G helicopters by 2030. The process allows foreign governments buying U.S. kit some leeway in customizing their equipment, but the push for standard-issue equipment is generally more pronounced than in direct commercial sales.

That kind of discipline may be a welcome constraint for the German military-acquisition office, which had added a litany of special requirements for communications equipment and sensors, like a new weather radar, into the previous program. In the end, industry officials said, the eventual wish list released by the defense ministry was a far cry from the original desire for a no-frills workhorse helicopter on the battlefield.

At the same time, industry sources caution that there would have to be some adjustments made to U.S. aircraft in order to get them certified to fly here. Countries also typically want their own communications gear that fits with national security standards.

The prospect of an election here next year, which usually means large-scale acquisition decisions must wait, has the defense ministry scrambling to make decisions, perhaps as soon as this month.

“We are currently re-evaluating the project,” a spokeswoman told Defense News. “A decision about how, and whether, we will continue has yet to be made.”

The newspaper Welt am Sonntag reported over the weekend that defense officials had lodged a formal FMS request with the Pentagon on Nov. 20, asking for responses by Dec. 4. Such a turnaround time would be extraordinary when accounting for the Thanksgiving holiday and Washington’s lame-duck spirit after a grueling presidential race.

The apparent rush has already caught the attention of industry. “We appreciate that the acquisition process will continue but we are wondering about the fast pace,” Dennis Goege, Lockheed’s vice president for central and eastern Europe, told the Handelsblatt newspaper. “We aim for a competition that ensures a fair comparison of both aircraft,” he added.

Sebastian Sprenger is associate editor for Europe at Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multi-national investments in defense and global security. Previously he served as managing editor for Defense News. He is based in Cologne, Germany.

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