The French defense procurement agency, the Armament General Directorate (DGA in French acronym), awarded a roughly EUR9 billion ($10.17 billion) contract to Airbus Helicopters on December 22 for the development and production of the H160M Guépard (Cheetah) under the framework of the French Defense Ministry’s Joint Light Helicopter (Hélicoptère Interarmées Léger, or HIL) program.
The order involves the production of 169 H160Ms, plus options for more, which will be delivered to the French Air and Space Force, Army, and Navy starting in 2027, with the Army receiving the initial units.
The contract covers development of several prototypes, followed by a first batch series-production delivery of 30 helicopters. These will be allocated primarily to the Army (21 units) and Navy (8 units), with the Air Force receiving a lone helicopter.
— Airbus PRESS (@AirbusPRESS) December 22, 2021
Once delivered, the Guépards will replace a cross-section of light and medium helicopters, including the Navy’s Aerospatiale Alouette IIIs and multirole AS 365 Dauphins and AS 565 Panthers, the Air Force’s AS 555 Fennec light attack helicopters and SA 330 Pumas, and the Army’s Puma transports and SA 341/342 Gazelles used in both light attack and reconnaissance roles.
The French Navy will use its new units for anti-ship missions, fleet protection, and at-sea rescue. Delivery of the first H160M to the service is expected in 2029. The Navy will ultimately receive 49 of these helicopters.
The French Air Force plans to utilize its helicopters for airspace protection, search-and-rescue, intelligence-gathering, and deep forays behind enemy positions. All of the Air Force H160Ms are to be capable of performing air-to-air refueling duties.
The French Army’s helicopters will be allocated for reconnaissance, fire support, medevac, and special forces infiltration duties. The French Army Guépard delivery timeline has been accelerated, with the original 2028 date brought forward by two years to 2026.
France opted for a single-fleet helicopter plan in order to achieve scale in both development and support costs while allowing for the retirement of older stocks of legacy platforms whose maintenance costs continue to rise.
Predevelopment contracts for the militarization of the H160 civil rotorcraft were awarded to Airbus Helicopters and Safran Helicopters Engines by the DGA on December 30, 2019.