France Accelarates Joint Light Helicopter Programme

Above: A full-scale mock-up of France’s Hélicoptère Interarmées Léger (HIL – Joint Light Helicopter), which will replace five types currently in French Air Force, Army and Navy service.  Airbus Helicopters

FRANCE HAS accelerated its Hélicoptère Interarmées Léger (HIL – Joint Light Helicopter) programme to acquire the Airbus Helicopters H160M military version of the new H160 helicopter for the French Armed Forces.  French Minister of the Armed Forces, Florence Parly, announced today, May 27, that launch of the programme has been brought forward to 2021.

The HIL programme, for which the H160 was selected in 2017, was initially scheduled for launch in 2022 under the current military budget law, the Loi de Programmation Militaire (LPM – Military Planning Act) 2019-2025.  Launching the programme earlier will enable delivery of the first H160Ms to the French Armed Forces to be advanced to 2026, rather than 2028, as previously planned.

During a visit to the Airbus Helicopters headquarters in Marignane today, the Minister also revealed the full-scale mock‑up of the H160M that will be presented on the Ministry of the Armed Forces stand at the Paris Air Show next month.  The helicopter was today also given its official name and will be designated as the Guépard (Cheetah) by the French Armed Forces.

The H160 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 army, the navy and the air force through the HIL programme.

Bruno Even, CEO of Airbus Helicopters, said: “We are proud that the HIL is considered a strategic programme.  I would like to thank the Ministry, the French Defence Procurement Agency DGA and the armed forces for their trust and for the close collaboration which helped create the conditions for the programme to be brought forward within the framework of the current military budget law.  This will make it possible to speed up the replacement of the older generation of aircraft, while optimising the support and availability of the French State’s helicopter fleet.  Our teams are committed to delivering an aircraft in 2026 that meets the needs of the French armed forces in terms of availability, performance and capability, thus enabling it to rapidly become the new benchmark on the world’s medium-lift military helicopter market.”

Built around a platform that will enter service next year, the HIL programme will benefit from many of the advantages inherent in the civil H160, particularly in terms of support, with simplified maintenance and lower operating costs than the previous generation of helicopters in this category.

The French Armed Forces plan to acquire a total of 169 H150Ms, 15 more than the target of the previous LPM.  These will replace five types om service since the 1970s with the French Aviation Légère de L’Armée de Terre – ALAT, Army Aviation Corps (Alouette III, Dauphin and Gazelle), Aéronautique Navale – Naval Aviation (Panther) and Armée de l’Air – French Air Force (Fennec).  The purchase will be split between 80 for the ALAT, 49 for the Aéronavale and 40 for the Armée de l’Air.  The single fleet concept will pool development costs between the three air arms.  It will also make it possible to optimize support, particularly on spare parts stocks.  The early withdrawal of old helicopter fleets will generate savings estimated to be in the order of one hundred million euros in terms of operational maintenance.

The Guépard Will enable the ALAT to carry out missions of armed reconnaissance, fire support, infiltration of special forces and medical evacuation; the Aéronavale to carry out anti-ship, naval protection or maritime rescue missions; and the AdlA to provide airspace protection, search and rescue, deep action or intelligence missions.

The Direction Générale de l’Armement (DGA – Directorate General of Armament) is currently conducting work to clarify the expected performance and characteristics of this new helicopter.  Further studies, conducted in parallel, should advance technologies specific to certain military needs, in particular in the areas of avionics and radar.  In liaison with the Armed Forces Staff, the DGA will continue to define the helicopter and its support system until launching the programme.