The Army’s diversity is reflected in its different branches. Each of these branches has its very own set of distinct skills and capabilities, yet they are at their strongest and most successful only when they work together. Specialised equipment is used to overcome a wide variety of challenges. Learn more about Army aviation.
Army aviation, with its organic helicopter assets and in cooperation with infantry forces, is capable of conducting air manoeuvre warfare. Additionally, it enables the exercise of airmobile command and control and reconnaissance along with combat and combat service support, including the airmobile transport of personnel, materiel and casualties. “Nach vorn!” [“Forward!”] is more than just a rallying cry: as the motto of the entire branch, it is also the guiding principle of every Army aviator.
The mainstay of air manoeuvre capability
Despite being a comparatively young branch, Army aviation is the mainstay of the Army’s air manoeuvre and air transport capabilities. Its operational units are pooled in the Rapid Response Forces Division.
One attack helicopter regiment as well as two transport helicopter regiments are directly subordinated to the Division.
The International Helicopter Training Centre in Bückeburg is an institution of central importance for the entire branch. It ranks among the most modern training facilities in the Bundeswehr and is an internationally renowned centre of excellence for helicopter pilot training. Here, all Bundeswehr helicopter pilots along with many of their comrades-in-arms from allied nations are first introduced to their future weapon systems.
More than 200 helicopters
At present, Army aviation disposes of a total of approximately 200 helicopters. These aircraft are distributed over five garrisons throughout Germany and the French-German Training Centre for Tiger Helicopter Technical and Logistic Personnel in Le Cannet-des-Maures, France.
Army aviation forces provide support to all Army branches and frequently cooperate with the other services as well as with armed forces of other nations.
They are at their most effective in high-tempo operations, bringing fires to bear on the enemy and moving forces, materiel and supplies to the designated location over short or medium distances. Their mobility allows Army aviation to make a special contribution to the manoeuvrist approach, both in general combat as well as during deep operations far into enemy territory.
During low-altitude flight, helicopters exploit the terrain and its topographic features. They do not require airfields and can, given the right equipment, fly and fight under severely limited visibility conditions or at night.
A multitude of options
Within the framework of combined-arms operations, Army aviation forces participate in peace missions, rescue and evacuation operations, special forces deployments and disaster relief operations. It is their flexibility in particular that distinguishes the Army aviation elements. Extreme weather and terrain features as well as the general conditions on the ground regularly place the highest demands on air crews, command-and-control assets and air materiel.
Army aviation forces, due to their special capabilities, have participated and continue to participate in nearly every operation abroad and disaster relief operation conducted by the German Army. These include:
1962: Hamburg flood
1991 to 1996: UNSCOM in Iraq
1993 to 1994: UNOSOM II in Somalia
1995 to 1996: IFOR in Yugoslavia
1996 to 1998: SFOR in Yugoslavia
1997: Oder river flood relief
Since 1998: KFOR in Yugoslavia
Since 2004: EUFOR in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Since 2002: ISAF in Afghanistan and Uzbekistan
2002: Elbe river flood relief
2005 to 2006: Earthquake relief in Pakistan
2006: EUFOR in Congo
2007: Forest fires in Greece
2011 to 2012: SFOR mission with Bo 105
2013: Elbe river flood relief
2013 to 2014: ISAF mission, Tiger and NH-90 employed
2017 to 2018: UNUnited Nations MINUSMAMultidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali mission in Mali, Tiger and NH-90 employed
Army aviation elements may depart from their basic organisational structure and form mixed Army aviation units that employ different aircraft. These mixed units can be assigned to the operational control of the national commander in theatre, which is why flying command personnel must have mastered the operational doctrine of all Army aviation weapon systems.
The Army’s aviation forces
How we fight
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Nach – vorn!
Three different helicopter types are either already available to the Army aviation units or are currently being procured.They are employed to accomplish three core missions of Army Aviation: combat, transport and training.
History of Army aviation
In 1954, Colonel Horst Pape, the Army’s advisor on Army aviation matters, was tasked with planning the build-up of an Army aviation corps. The first flying unit of Army aviation was established at Niedermendig in May 1957. Also starting in 1957, the first units were equipped with the Bell 47 G-2 helicopter and the Do 27 fixed-wing aircraft. In addition, the following helicopters were procured for testing: 14 Bell 47 GH13, 6 SO 1221 Djinn, 10 Skeeter Mark 6, Bristol 171 Sycamore, 28 Vertol H-21 and 26 Sikorsky S-58 (later H-34) aircraft.
By 1959, the Do 27 liaison aircraft had already been replaced with 130 newly procured SA-318 Alouette II helicopters. These would remain in use for many years as training helicopters at the Army Aviation School. This school, which was to become Army aviation’s central training facility, was established in Niedermendig in 1959 before relocating to Bückeburg in 1960, where it remains to this day.
The Bell UH-1D was first introduced as a training aircraft at the Army Aviation School in 1963 and then fielded as a transport helicopter in 1967.
1972 saw the procurement of the Sikorsky CH-53 helicopter, which replaced the Sikorsky H-34. Since then, the CH-53 has seen use in virtually all operations abroad and proved its worth in many disaster assistance and emergency relief missions. According to current plans, this helicopter type, which has by now undergone several modernisation and life extension measures, will remain in use until 2030. As part of the concentration of helicopter capabilities in 2012, the CH-53 helicopter fleet was transferred to the Air Force.
The numerical superiority of the Warsaw Pact tank fleet prompted the Bundeswehr to procure the Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm (MBB) Bo 105 aircraft and refit it with HOT guided missiles that could defeat tanks. The first regiments to use the newly introduced antitank helicopters were established in 1979: 16 Regiment at Celle, 26 Regiment at Roth and 36 Regiment at Fritzlar. In addition, the MBB Bo 105 was employed as a liaison and observation helicopter, without additional armament in this role.
In the wake of reunification, the Bundeswehr initially took over the fleet of Mil Mi-8 and Mil Mi-24 helicopters fielded by East Germany’s National People’s Army, or NVA, but eventually decommissioned them. The NVA units incorporated into the Bundeswehr, 3 and 5 Attack Helicopter Wings, were reorganised into the 70, 80 and East Army Aviation Squadrons. In 1994, the newly established 3 Army Aviation Brigade in Mendig pooled, for the first time, all forces of the transport helicopter formations as well as almost all the observation and liaison squadrons. Previously, most of the Army aviation forces had been concentrated in what were known as Army Aviation Commands at the higher command echelons at corps level.
In 1997, 1 Air Mechanised Brigade was put into service at Fritzlar Army air base. With this step, the entire branch, whose exclusive focus had until then been on the performance of support tasks at the highest level but which, conceptually, was already prepared to introduce the new weapon systems Tiger and NH-90, was transformed into an independently operating combat force. And when 1 Infantry Regiment was established as an organic element of this brigade, the Army, for the first time, would have rapidly deployable infantry forces with air manoeuvre capability at its disposal. Together with the brigade’s attack helicopters, these infantry forces were capable of airmobile combat from the air and on the ground. Rechristening the major unit as 1 Air Manoeuvre Brigade was a logical consequence of this expansion of its capability and mission spectrum.
In 2012, the concentration of helicopter capabilities constituted a turning point for the Army aviation branch, with far-reaching changes and cuts. The remaining 15 and 25 Medium Transport Helicopter Regiments at Rheine-Bentlage and Laupheim, respectively, were disbanded and the CH-53 helicopters were integrated into the Air Force. Today, the Air Force’s 64 Helicopter Wing continues to operate the aircraft at the Holzdorf-Schönewald and Laupheim garrisons. Moreover, structural changes led to a reduction of Army aviation personnel and materiel by more than 50 percent. The Bo 105 helicopters were pooled in Training Centre C in Celle and employed for training tasks and operational missions.
In 2016, the remaining Bo 105 helicopters were decommissioned and Training Centre C in Celle was disbanded. At the same time, most of the UH-1D aircraft were phased out as well, with just a small fleet of 18 helicopters concentrated at the Niederstetten garrison for the standing operational task of SAR (search and rescue).