France has launched the pre-development activities for the militarized variant of the Airbus H160 helicopter, designated H160M Guépard (“Cheetah”) by French Armed Forces.
The French defense procurement agency, DGA (Direction générale de l’armement, “General Directorate of Armament”) notified the pre-development contract to Airbus Helicopters and Safran Helicopter Engines on Dec. 30, 2019. The new contract is to pursue a new set of studies to further the militarization of the H160 and to define its associated support ecosystem in the frame of the Armed Forces’ Joint Light Helicopter program (Hélicoptère Interarmées Léger: HIL).
The new set of studies will also focus on defining the optimal set-up for supporting the tri-service H160M fleet. Airbus Helicopters, Safran Helicopter Engines, and the DGA will work closely together in order to maximize the availability rate of the helicopters, as well as optimizing the cost of supporting the fleet.
“Launching this collaborative work between Industry and the Ministry of the Armed Forces in order to define the support framework for the Guépard and the associated processes, as early as the pre-development phase, is essential. The output will provide us with all the levers necessary to ensure a high level of availability at the H160M’s entry into service in the French armed forces,” said Alexandra Cros, Vice President and Head of Governmental Affairs France at Airbus Helicopters. “The studies build upon the work and commitments taken recently in the global support contracts for the Cougar, Caracal, and Tiger fleets of the French armed forces”.
The H160, the latest addition to Airbus’ civilian range, was designed to be a modular helicopter, enabling its military version, with a single platform, to perform missions ranging from commando infiltration to air intercept, fire support, and anti-ship warfare in order to meet the needs of the French Army, the Navy and the Air Force through the HIL program.
In May 2019, the French Minister of Armed Forces Florence Parly announced her decision to accelerate the program to allow the first deliveries from 2026 with 2 years ahead of the initial schedule. The launch of the HIL program is scheduled for 2021. According to Airbus, bringing the launch of the program forward to 2021 will enable the delivery by 2026.
The new helicopter will replace multiple helicopters in the French military service such as Gazelle (Army), Alouette III (Navy), Dauphin (Navy), Panther (Navy) and Fennec (Air Force).
In Army service, the H160M helicopter will conduct armed reconnaissance, fire support, infiltration of special forces and medical evacuation. It will carry out anti-ship, naval force protection, intelligence and maritime rescue missions for the French Navy, and airspace protection, search and rescue, and intelligence for the Air Force.
The mockup of H160M was unveiled at the Paris International Air and Space Show-Le Bourget in June 2019.