BERLIN, Dec 15 (Reuters) - Germany's navy has begun planning to replace its fleet of 21 Westland Sea Lynx anti-submarine warfare helicopters, which are due to be retired in 2025, a spokesman for the navy said.
"We are still in the very early stages of the process," Captain Johannes Dumrese said on Wednesday, when asked about a report that the navy could make a decision about a replacement helicopter by the end of 2017. "I cannot say anything about the timing."
Bidders for the contract to supply anti-submarine warfare aircraft are likely to include Europe's Airbus Group SE , whose NH90 Sea Lion multi-role naval helicopter marked its first flight last week; Sikorsky, a unit of Lockheed Martin Corp, and AgustaWestland, part of Italy's Leonardo Finmeccanica SpA, which built the current helicopters.
Dumrese said the navy still had to assess and formulate its requirements for the replacement helicopters before acquisition experts could begin to evaluate possible options in order to structure a bidding process.
Military experts say they do not expect major procurement decisions before national elections in Germany in September.
Separately, the German navy plans to spend 750 million euros ($782 million) to buy 18 of Airbus's NH90 Sea Lion helicopters, with deliveries to begin at the end of 2019. The helicopters will be used for search and rescue missions, maritime reconnaissance, special forces missions as well as transport needs.
The NH90 could be adapted for use as an anti-submarine helicopter. However, it cannot land on Germany's older F123 frigates, which prompted the navy to abandon its goal of having a single helicopter when it first kicked off the NH90 programme. ($1 = 0.9596 euros) (Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Susan Fenton)