Florence Parly, French Minister of the Armed Forces, recently announced the launch of the Joint Light Helicopter (HIL) programme having been brought forward to 2021. The HIL programme, for which Airbus Helicopters’ H160 was selected in 2017, was initially scheduled for launch in 2022 by the current military budget law. Launching the programme earlier will enable delivery of the first H160Ms to the French Armed Forces to be advanced to 2026.
During a visit to the Airbus Helicopters headquarters, 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 Paris Air Show 2019. The helicopter was also christened Guépard (Cheetah) by the French Armed Forces.
It 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.
“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,” said Bruno Even, CEO of Airbus Helicopters. “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.”
The French Navy is seeking to replace its DAUPHIN, PANTHER, and ALOUETTE III helicopters with the HIL. Intended to serve alongside the NH90, the naval version will have a deck landing harpoon, strengthened undercarriage, and folding blades. It will be fitted with a search radar and be armed with MBDA ANL light anti-ship missiles. In French Army service the H160M is intended to replace the FENNEC and GAZELLE in roles such as observation and armed scout, supporting the army’s TIGER attack helicopters. The aircraft is proposed with a forward-firing 20mm cannon mounted on the port weapon stub and laser-guided rockets, believed to be the Thales FZ275. The air force might replace its FENNECs and PUMAs to include search and rescue, anti-helicopter/UAV, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), liaison, and transport roles. The air force requires the HIL to be capable of in-flight refueling from KC-130J and A400M tankers.
All three French services require the HIL to have the datalinks necessary to cooperate with drones/UAVs in manned-unmanned teams (MUM-T). The navy, in particular, needs its HIL aircraft to work in conjunction with rotary-wing UAVs such as the VSR700 that is now in development by Airbus.