The Westland Lynx utility helicopter was another type to go under the knife for Afghanistan. Under a £50 million urgent operational requirement, AgustaWestland took the LHTEC CTS800 engines destined for the new Wildcat and retrofitted them onto the Lynx AH9 fleet, replacing the Rolls-Royce Gem engines and transforming their hot-and-high performance in Afghanistan.
Commanders used to describe the Gem-equipped Lynx as “asthmatic” in the Afghan heat, pointing out that the type could “barely hop over the perimeter fence” on a summer day. The performance of the AH9A model allows the British Joint Helicopter Force to add electro-optical (EO) sensors and Browning 50-cal. door guns, giving it a useful light attack and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capability without commanders having to resort to the more expensive Boeing AH-64 Apache and its sensors.
Away from Afghanistan, the U.K. is also updating its elderly Westland Pumas. Twenty-four are being upgraded by Eurocopter in France and Romania under the £300 million Puma Life Extension Program launched in September 2009. The U.K. examined various options, including Denel's Oryx Puma upgrade, before choosing the Eurocopter program. The upgrade is based on work carried out on the Puma fleet for the United Arab Emirates army, but features a new avionics suite similar to that in the Eurocopter EC725, new Turbomeca Makila engines and a modified gearbox for the extra power. The aircraft are being rewired and given a new fuel tank, which will extend range, potentially making it more attractive to special forces. The type is understood to be the preferred mount of U.K. special operators. The first converted aircraft are undergoing flight tests in the U.K. and are due to reenter service this year.
Upgrades to Pumas are relatively common, as the type fits a niche in many air arms. The French army and air force fleet of 26 Eurocopter AS532 Cougars are being progressively upgraded with avionics and self-defense systems, allowing them to continue operations alongside the new NH90 Caiman. Upgraded Cougars can be identified by a new EO camera system in the nose.
In Switzerland, Ruag Aviation has developed a Super Puma upgrade that the company is retrofitting for the Swiss air force fleet. The update brings the aircraft up to the same avionics fit as the Cougars purchased by the Swiss in 2001 and introduces GPS-INS navigation, a flight-management system and a TCAS collision-warning system, allowing them to fly outside the country. The aircraft have also been fitted with an EO camera system attached to a port-side pylon. Upgrading the fleet of 15 aircraft is due to be completed by the end of 2014 and should give the Super Pumas at least another 15 years of life.
Perhaps the most significant French upgrade program is for the navy's Panther fleet, which is being upgraded to what the service calls Standard 2. An €80 million ($104 million) update was developed to solve deficiencies in aircraft capability and reduce pilot workload. The mid-life update gives the aircraft new avionics and a self-protection suite. It also lets the Panther carry a light antiship missile, while a new EO turret attached to a port pylon provides intelligence, surveillance and reconnaisance. The first Standard 2 Panthers returned to service in 2012.
Eurocopter's Brazilian partner Helibras is working on an upgrade for the Panthers of the Brazilian army. The Pantera K2 program adds the Arriel 2C2CG engine, which reportedly reduces time between overhauls, and a Fadec system. To cope with the extra power, it features a modernized main gearbox. New avionics are being fitted along with a four-axis digital autopilot.
Germany has a need for a heavy-lift helicopter but is unable to fund development. It has decided instead to keep its aging Sikorsky CH-53 helicopters, which were license-built in Germany during the 1970s. Eurocopter is giving the aircraft a new avionics suite and extending the life of the airframe to 10,000 from 6,000 hr., allowing helicopters to keep flying to 2025 and probably beyond. The new CH-53GA features a modern digital cockpit using Rockwell Collins's CAAS suite, renamed German Avionics Management System, and adds a four-axis autopilot and new radios to make the aircraft interoperable with NATO and U.S. assets. The update also adds a Selex-made EO/IR turret on the nose.
Other changes include a new electronic warfare system and an auxiliary fuel tank in the rear cabin, which gives the aircraft a range of 1,200 km (745 mi.). Forty CH-53s will be converted to the GA standard. The type is in use by German forces in northern Afghanistan, and several machines there are to be fitted with a landing system that will aid pilots in brownout landings. SeLa, or Sensor-based Landing Aid, has been developed by ESG and uses radar distance, drift sensors and a low-light TV to feed the crew aircraft attitude information, reducing the need for outside vision.