By: Warren Gray

Copyright © 2024

“There were many helicopters in the European market, but the H145 was at the top of

the list…it’s like a brand-new era for us…We’ve jumped into the digital era with the H145M…It will also be used for Special Forces missions…the performance and

power margin is just amazing!”

 — Colonel Tamás Bali, Ph.D., Deputy Base Commander,

Szolnok Helicopter Wing, Hungarian Air Force

On December 16, 2023, the German government officially selected the Airbus H145M light combat helicopter for the German Army’s new assault helicopter requirement, replacing existing EC665 Tiger UHT attack helicopters, especially in the anti-tank role. Under a $2.29-billion contract, the largest German military expenditure in many years, 57 H145M aircraft will be delivered to the army aviation corps between 2024 and 2028, with five more for special operations units, and a final option for 20 additional aircraft. At least 24 of these new gunships will serve as anti-tank machines, armed with Israeli-designed, Spike-LR long-range missiles.

The German Army is now reverting to their former Cold War strategy of employing lightweight, maneuverable, utility helicopters in the anti-tank role instead of heavy, cumbersome, problematic, attack helicopters such as the EC665 Tiger. During the Cold War, they flew Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm (MBB) Bo-105P/PAH-1A1 helicopters, each armed with six HOT-2MP anti-tank missiles. Manufactured in Donauwörth, Germany, north of Augsburg, the H145M is derived from the proven Eurocopter EC145 T2 twin-engine, light utility helicopter, now owned by Airbus, and renamed the H145 since 2015.

With a two-man flight crew and up to eight passengers, it’s powered by a pair of Turboméca/Safran Arriel 2E turboshaft engines, each rated at 828 horsepower, driving a five-blade, composite, bearingless, main-rotor system with a monolithic, titanium hub, all-composite fuselage, and a 10-blade, asymmetrical, composite, Fenestron device in place of a tail rotor, mounted inside an all-composite tail boom.

The Fenestron, derived from the Latin word fenestra, meaning “window,” is a low-noise, ducted-fan, anti-torque, or “fan-in-fin” assembly in a shrouded, circular housing, making the helicopter very quiet, and promoting lateral stability in flight. As a result, the H145 is the quietest helicopter in its (four-ton) class, an especially desirable characteristic for a special operations attack aircraft.

The EC145/H145 is currently operated by civilian and police forces in Brazil, Canada (including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police), Cayman Islands, France, Germany, Israel, Lithuania, Morocco, Namibia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Switzerland, Serbia, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In military service, they are operated by Albania (3 x H145M), Belgium (20 x H145M on order), Bolivia, Cayman Islands, Cyprus (6 x H145M), Ecuador (6), France, Germany (22 x H145M), Hungary (19 x H145M), Kazakhstan, Luxembourg (2), Serbia (15 x H145M), Thailand (Navy), and the United Kingdom (Royal Air Force).

There are more than 1,500 EC145/H145s in service worldwide, with 34 nations and at least 100 individual agencies or governments. The German Air Force has operated 15 H145Ms (designated EC645 T2s) for the past 10 years, and is quite satisfied with their performance and reliability, which have maintained a mission-readiness rate of 99 percent. It has an empty weight of 3,951 pounds, as opposed to the Tiger’s bulky 6,746 pounds, and is now fitted with a brand-new, five-blade, bearingless, composite, main-rotor system, with Blue Edge rotor blade technology, which further decreases weight by 110 pounds.

The H145M military helicopter is fitted with an all-glass, Thales Avionics flight-control display system, a state-of-the-art Helionix digital avionics suite, a head-up display (HUD), and can be fitted with self-sealing fuel tanks, ballistic armor plating, pintle-mounted, 7.62mm FN MAG or M134D machine guns, military-grade communication systems, an electronic-warfare, self-protection system, crash-resistant seats, a fast-roping system, rescue hoist, cargo hooks, and other military-grade features. The latest price quote for the H145M is approximately $10.2 million, compared to $68 million for an EC665 Tiger, so the H145M is actually quite inexpensive by modern standards.

The H145M will be armed with the Airbus HForce modular, armament system, certified in 2018, and based upon knowledge gained from the EC665 Tiger attack helicopter. HForce provides two external weapon stations, and the heart of the system is the Rockwell Collins Deutschland (RCD) FMC-4212 mission computer, a Thales Scorpion monocular, helmet-mounted sight display (HMSD), and a Wescam MX-15D FLIR sensor for day/night targeting and laser illumination.

The dual weapon stations can mount an FN HMP250 (heavy machine-gun pod, with an FN M3P .50-caliber gun and 250 rounds of ammunition), an NC621 (Nexter Cannon, M621) 20mm gun pod with 180 rounds of ammunition, seven-shot or 12-shot, unguided, 68mm or Hydra-70 rocket pods, Thales FZ275 laser-guided, 70mm missiles, or Rafael/Eurospike (of Israel and Germany) fifth-generation, Spike-LR (2.5 miles) or ER2 (6.2 miles) imaging-infrared, anti-tank missiles (demonstrated in live-fire tests in Hungary in early 2021).

Air-to-air missiles such as the heat-seeking, MBDA Missile Systems Mistral M3 may be added in the future. The first export customer for the HForce system was Serbia, with an order for nine H145Ms (they call it the H-50B), including four equipped with HForce weapons capability and 80mm rockets. The Hungarian Air Force also has 20 more H145Ms with HForce armament systems.

There aren’t many helicopters that mount forward-firing, 20x102mm cannon these days, but Nexter (in France) produces a very sleek, streamlined, NC621 (Nexter Cannon, M621) gun pod, with an M621 cannon and 180 rounds of ammunition. This is available for the AS532AL Cougar helicopter, EC635P2 helicopter (16 made so far for Iraq), Romanian IAR-330L/M, the H225M Caracal, and the A-29A/B Super Tucano light attack aircraft (seldom used), plus the new, H145M helicopter gunship.

The M621 weapon is 7.25 feet long, with a 4.8-foot barrel, and it weighs 100 pounds. This makes it almost two feet longer than an M2HB heavy machine gun, with a barrel about one foot longer, but weighing only 16 extra pounds, a modest, 19-percent weight increase. Its 20mm ammunition fires at 3,283 fps velocity, out to an effective range of 2,000 meters (1.25 miles) at a fixed rate of 750 rpm (12.5 rps), with a projectile weight of slightly more than double that of the .50 BMG round, and it has a highly-effective muzzle brake to reduce recoil forces, so it’s quite controllable.

These various, cannon-armed helicopters are all reminiscent of the classic, now-retired (since 2014), Aérospatiale SA341F2 Gazelle scout aircraft of the French Army Light Aviation (ALAT) service, of which 62 examples were constructed with a fixed, forward-firing, M621 cannon on the right side of the fuselage, with 100 rounds of ammunition inside the rear cabin.

Aérospatiale SA341F2 Gazelle gunship. Photo credit:

Interestingly enough, French special operations SA342M1 Gazelle pilots (without the 20mm gun) are currently the most heavily-armed pilots in the world, each carrying one B&T APC556-PDW in 5.56mm, an H&K MP7A1 personal-defense weapon (PDW) in 4.6x30mm, a Glock-17FR Gen. 5 pistol in 9x19mm, two OFX F1 hand grenades, a Wildsteer (French) Blade H-4 combat/survival knife, and a Tarrerias-Bonjean CAC French Army field knife. Wow!

This huge weapons contract comes just as Germany struggles to modernize its armed forces, with a $51.2-billion military budget this year, reshaping defense capabilities across its army, air force, and navy, even amid rising inflation and an ongoing energy crisis. There is enormous pressure to meet their NATO commitment of two percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) to be spent on defense.

German paratroopers, as the nation modernizes its armed forces. Photo credit: GlobalData

In conclusion, the H145M gunship will provide the German Army with a lightweight, maneuverable, highly-versatile, multi-role, attack helicopter with anti-tank capabilities at a very modest price. This weapons selection resurrects their former Cold War strategy for engaging Russian armored formations, a decision undoubtedly reached due to current Russian aggression in Ukraine, and Russia’s continued, expansionist ambitions toward much of Europe. In 1849, French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr wrote, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose,” or “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Those were prophetic words, indeed.

*                    *                    *

Warren Gray is a retired, U.S. Air Force intelligence officer with experience in joint special operations and counterterrorism. He served in Europe (lived in Germany for four years) and the Middle East, earned Air Force and Navy parachutist wings, four college degrees, and was a distinguished graduate of the Air Force Intelligence Operations Specialist Course, and the USAF Combat Targeting School. He is currently a published author and historian.