France’s Direction Générale de l’Armement (DGA, armament general directorate) has placed a development and procurement contract with Airbus Helicopters for the H160M utility helicopter. The type had already been selected to fulfil France’s Hélicoptère Interarmées Légèr (HIL, light joint helicopter) requirement, but the contract kick-starts the final development and initial production phase. At the same time, 10 non-militarized H160s were ordered for the Gendarmerie Nationale, and a single aircraft for use as a systems testbed by the DGA.
A number of prototype helicopters will be produced under the contract, along with a first batch of 30 production H160Ms. Of these 21 will go to the Armée de Terre (army), which is scheduled to be the first operator. The second operator, the Marine Nationale (navy) will get eight from this initial batch, with the remaining single helicopter to go to the Armée de l’Air et de l’Espace (air and space force). Altogether France has a requirement for 169 H160Ms, with the first due to enter service in 2027. The army is due to receive 80, the navy 49 and the air force 40. The French navy already has six civilian-standard H160s on order, which will be used for search and rescue operations from next year.
“The Guépard is the result of ten years of close cooperation with the DGA and the French armed forces,” said Bruno Even, Airbus Helicopters CEO. “The H160M will bring new capabilities to the armed forces as it is adapted to modern warfare thanks to its increased connectivity, maneuverability, low acoustic footprint, and a fully integrated support system.”
To be known as the Guépard (cheetah) in French service, the H160M is the military version of the EASA-certified H160, of which the first example was recently delivered. The H160M will replace several current fleets and will be supported by Airbus Helicopters under what it calls an “innovative management of maintenance and aircraft availability through a dedicated organization,” similar to that introduced last year for the French Cougar and Caracal fleets.
Trials conducted in Morocco in July this year with the civilian H160 have already demonstrated the efficiency of the inlet barrier filtration system for the Safran Arrano engines, as well as the performance of the automatic flight control system during takeoff and landing in severe “brown-out” conditions caused by billowing sand. The helicopter’s Blue Edge blades significantly reduce noise signature compared with types currently in service.
Among the equipment planned for the H160M are a hoist and fast-roping arm, Safran Euroflir 410 electro-optic turret, with Thales to supply FlytX cockpit avionics, AirMaster C radar, and the TopOwl helmet-mounted sight and display. It will feature the Airbus HForce weapons system and can be configured to carry pod- and door-mounted guns. The navy’s version will be able to fire the MBDA ANL new-generation anti-ship missile.
The Guépard deal caps a strong end-of-year for the Airbus Helicopters military product line. In early December the UAE announced it would be buying 12 H225M Caracal helicopters as part of the Rafale deal, while on December 12 Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic confirmed that 11 H145Ms will be bought to join the five already in service with the air force and four with the Serbian police.