By Andrea Shalal
BERLIN (Reuters) – The German parliament on Friday approved a big spending boost of 5.7 billion euros (£4.9 billion) for major weapons programmes in coming years, including plans to buy a new U.S.-built heavy-lift helicopter that had run into trouble.
Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen welcomed the move during a visit to troops at the Holzdorf air base 100 km south of Berlin, the same place where she disclosed this summer that funding for the programme was uncertain.
A longer-term budget planning document accompanying the 2019 budget revisions called for total spending of 5.6 billion on the new helicopters – which will be purchased from either U.S. arms maker Lockheed Martin or its rival Boeing.
“This is very good news for the readiness of the Bundeswehr because we urgently need to replace old equipment,” von der Leyen said, citing the wear and tear to the current fleet of CH-53G helicopters during 17 years in Afghanistan.
Approval of the revised budget plan – which adds 326.5 million euros to lift the 2019 military budget to 43.2 billion euros – means the ministry can now move forward with a tender for 45-60 new heavy-lift helicopters.
The sum earmarked for the helicopter programme is 40 percent higher than an initial forecast of 4 billion euros. It was not immediately clear what caused the spike in the cost projection.
German Air Force Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Ingo Gerhartz welcomed inclusion of funding for the new helicopter, saying it would help advance the “urgently needed modernisation of the air force”.
Lawmakers also approved 1.33 billion euros in funding for a new submarine to be developed with Norway, and work on a new air and missile defence system, von der Leyen said.
The revamped budget plan includes 1.77 billion euros for upgrades to Germany’s existing Eurofighter warplanes, including a new radar system, but no new jets, a ministry spokesman said.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Mark Heinrich)