LONDON — The British Royal Navy is to deploy its latest generation of multi-role helicopters onboard a German frigate in the Mediterranean as part of an effort to raise defense cooperation between the two NATO allies.
The Wildcat AW159 helicopter is scheduled to operate from a German ship in 2017, British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon told guests at an event in the German Embassy on Thursday.
No details of the deployment were immediately available, but the move could be a boost for the Wildcat builder, Leonardo-Finmeccanica's UK Helicopter Division, as it seeks to interest the German Navy in buying the machine to replace an aging fleet of AW159's predecessor, the Lynx.
The German Navy purchased 22 Sea Lynx from the Yeovil, western England, helicopter maker in the 1990s. The service is now considering replacing them.
Wildcat and Airbus Helicopters' Sea Lion variant of the NH90 are likely to be among the top contenders if a competition gets underway.
British officials said while they were keen for the German Navy to get a close-up look at the capabilities of the Wildcat, the decision to deploy the helicopter on the frigate was about defense engagement and interoperability rather than export sales.
Leonardo has already sold AW159s to Britain, South Korea and the Philippines. The helicopter can undertake anti-submarine, anti-surface utility and search-and-rescue roles.
Leonardo's Helicopter Division did not respond to telephone calls.
Aside from the Wildcat on the maritime front, the British are also trying to interest Berlin in looking at a variant of the Type 26 anti-submarine warfare frigate — a prospect many people here think is a long shot.
For its part, Germany’s land forces suppliers, Krauss Maffei Wegmann (KMW) and Rheinmetall, are looking to secure several big armored vehicle deals from the British Army; perhaps most notably the eight-wheel drive Mechanised Infantry Vehicle requirement for which their jointly developed Boxer platform is a front-runner.
KMW is also competing with BAE Systems for a large British Army bridging program.
Last year, the British government's Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) said the UK will work to intensify the security and defense relationship with Germany, including exploring future equipment collaboration and expanding training opportunities between the armed forces.
Fallon told guests at the German Embassy event, which was also attended by the British defense secretary’s counterpart, Ursula von der Leyen, that the review had lifted Germany to top-tier status among its allies, something formerly only afforded to the US and France.
Despite the moves to strengthen cooperation, the SDSR said Britain intended to continue a drawdown of troops from Germany, which is scheduled to see the withdrawal of all troops by 2020.