Barely touching the earth’s surface a pair of helicopters follows the terrain on the approach to its target. The flight route has been selected in way to remain undiscovered up to the very last possible moment. Only shortly before their landing zone the machines gain height, just to come to a quick stop under the crunching sound of the landing skids on the top of a shipping container. Quickly the soldiers of the “Kommando Spezialkräfte” (KSK or Special Forces Command) get out of the helicopter cabin, the only visible sign of this action in the middle of night is the green glim of the soldiers night vision goggles that is reflected on their faces. Protected by the darkness the rest of the exercise is carried out in secrecy.
Where? “Schnöggersburg”, Military Training Ground Colbitz, Germany
When? July 2018
This time the action takes place in the exercise town Schnöggersburg, which is located in the military training ground Altmark in the East of Germany. The centre of interest for this exercise was the co-operation between the German Army soldiers of the Special Operation Forces (SOFs) from Calw and Luftwaffe pilots, flying the German Armed Force’s newest aerial asset, the Airbus Helicopters H145M LUH SOF (Light Utility Helicopter – Special Operation Forces). The training had a special focus on landings on narrow landing fields such as houses, or under the using the methods of rappelling or fast roping.
Laupheim’s HSG64 4th Squadron
The H145M LUH SOF are operated by the 4th Squadron of the Hubschraubergeschwader 64 (HSG64 – Helicopter Wing 64) at Laupheim. The Squadron has been newly set up to prepare and start operations with this new Luftwaffe helicopter. The first two H145M were handed over to the Wing on 08 December 2015. One and a half years later, on 26 June 2017, the delivery of the total fleet of 15 aircraft of this military version of the originally civil Airbus Helicopters H145 was complete. This smooth and punctual sequence of actions of a defence project provided very few headlines, and may symbolically stand for the KSK missions, which are usually wrapped under an even denser shroud of silence.
Covert H145M Operations
The helicopters are used for special reconnaissance missions, offensive operations such as the rescue German hostages out of war zones, seizure of war criminals or terrorists and military assistance in host countries. In a surprising move last year three examples have been released to the public. Kept under the veil of secrecy until now, it has been disclosed that KSK forces did arrest a Serbian war criminal and are still active in Afghanistan, where reconnoitering the supply chains of insurgents and assistance to government forces is part of their duty.
H145M LUH SOF Special Equipment
From flying point of view the Laupheim crews praise the extended capabilities of their H145M LUH SOF. For the deployment of special forces into the operations area by means of tactical landings, fast-roping or rappelling as well as for fire support or the usage as a command and reconnaissance post the new helicopter is highly suitable. The LUH SOF therefore does not only cover the range of missions of its two predecessor, the MBB BO105 and Bell UH-1D, in only one platform, but extends them noticeably. This includes a new communication system for an improved interoperability with friendly forces, the ballistic protection against fire from ground and the self protection suite MILDS (making use of the missile warner AN/AAR-60) including four flare dispensers that are mounted on the landing skids. Depending on the mission a Wescam MX-15 EO-turret incorporating a night-vision capability can also be installed, as well the hoist and double hooks that can be considered standard when employing the KSK ground forces. Not so visible signs of this military variant of the H145 are furthermore a strengthened windscreen or the self-sealing supply tank.
A new and capable Asset
Also with the KSK in Calw as the main beneficiary of the Luftwaffe’s H145M LUH SOF is very impressed by the new solution, whose procurement was initiated in close collaboration with the Luftwaffe. With this new helicopter the KSK quotes that is now operable under all climate conditions. Compared to its predecessor Bo105 the larger cabin now also hosts a sufficient number of fully equipped soldier. Up to nine seats can be installed inside the cabin, and the helicopter has been certified by EASA for a maximum take-off mass of 3700kg, which is 50kg higher than its civil counterpart.
And that is with closed doors and therefore noticeably faster to their operational location. With the Bo105 soldiers were transported sitting in the cabin with their feet placed on the landing skid, which severely limited the achievable flight performance. However, after the disassembly of the rotor blades the H145M is on the other hand still small enough to fit in the cargo bay of the Luftwaffe’s Airbus A400M, and therefore worldwide deployable. In the future this capability will noticeable reduce the KSK’s dependence on the helicopter force of other friendly nations, though constant international training and exchange is and will still be on their list.
Luftwaffe H145M LUH SOF & KSK Training Photo Gallery
The author wants to express his sincere thanks to Luftwaffe and KSK public affairs to have been given the opportunity to witness such a training course!
This text is an excerpt of the article published in FlugRevue and Air Forces Monthly magazines.
Sidenote: within the Luftwaffe the helicopter’s designation has been temporarily re-named from Airbus Helicopter’s marketing name H145M back to the MBB BK-117 designation in October 2020, as BK-117 is used in all of the certification documents of this aircraft. This article has been published before this re-naming, therefore I did retain the then-used H145M designation.