The launch of the Joint Light Helicopter (Hélicoptère Interarmées Léger; HIL) program has been brought forward by one year, to 2021, announced French minister of the armed forces, Florence Parly. Launching the program earlier will enable delivery of the first Airbus H160Ms to the French armed forces in 2026 rather than the original target date of 2028.
HIL is intended to replace seven different helicopter types used by France’s navy and air force to perform a variety of missions, including light attack, armed escort and reconnaissance, interdiction, patrol, and search-and-rescue. The French military anticipates taking 169 H160Ms in total.
The aircraft will be equipped and weaponized with Airbus Helicopters’ HForce system, which can include features such as helmet-mounted display sights, search radar, mission computers, EO/IR sensor/rangefinder turret, 7.62mm door guns, 20mm cannon, and laser-guided rockets. The SAR variants will be equipped with rescue hoists.
The H160M is the latest example over the last 50 years of Airbus Helicopters’ successful program to militarize civilian airframes. Airbus anticipates certification of the civil variant of the medium-twin H160 later this year. The company flew the first production model of the aircraft last December. The H160 features the Helionix avionics suite, an all-composite airframe, and Blue Edge active-tracking main-rotor blades in a five-blade system. It has an estimated maximum cruise speed of 155 knots and service ceiling of 20,000 feet, with an anticipated range of 450 nm.