French minister of the armed forces Florence Parly has introduced its next-generation light joint helicopter dubbed the Guépard, or Cheetah. Based on the Airbus Helicopters H160M, the aircraft will be acquired under France’s light joint helicopter (HIL) program, fulfilling the replacement of all three armed forces’ incumbent fleets with a single type. The army is replacing the Gazelle and Alouette III, the navy its Dauphin and Panther, and the air force its Fennec.
Guépard has now been announced as the new name for the H160M that was selected in 2017 to fulfill the needs of the three forces, which is a militarized version of the civil variant that was unveiled in 2015. A full-scale mockup is being showcased this week at the Paris Air Show, being displayed on the French DGA procurement agency’s stand, alongside other in service types including the Tiger.
When the name was revealed, it was also announced by Parly that the HIL program has been accelerated from launching in 2022 to 2021, meaning that the deliveries of the planned buy of 169 Guépards could begin in 2026 rather than 2028. This is according to the military planning act (LPM) 2019 to 2025, and includes 15 more examples than what was listed in the previous LPM.
Presently, the DGA is outlining the required performance characteristics of the rotorcraft, while parallel upstream studies being carried out are expected to advance certain technologies, notably avionics and radar. The first production example of the H160 flew in December 2018, and certification of the civil variant is expected to be achieved this year ahead of deliveries to launch customer Babcock in 2020.
A single-fleet approach that is being undertaken by France is expected to reduce cost of ownership and acquisition, due to the pooling of development costs and the optimization of support including spare parts. An early withdrawal of the aging fleets will additionally provide savings of €100 million from the operational maintenance currently required, the DGA said.