France plans to expedite its future Joint Light Helicopter (Hélicoptère Interarmées Léger, or HIL) program by bringing the launch date forward to 2021 rather than the originally planned 2022 target. On May 27 during a visit to Airbus Helicopters’ plant in Marignane, France’s Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly unveiled a full-scale mockup of the future helicopter. Parly also announced that the platform will be called “Guépard” (Cheetah) in French service.
In a quest to find a light helicopter adaptable enough to be utilized by all three major service branches, France’s Directorate General of Armament (DGA) procurement agency selected the Airbus Helicopters H160 as its preferred tri‑service light rotorcraft replacement option in March 2017. Designed as a civil rotorcraft, the DGA is studying modifications to the H160 that will allow adaptions for military missions, including the installation of the Anti-Navire Léger anti-ship missile for the Navy and a machine gun for the Army, plus military-specific avionics and radar capabilities.
Under the current Military Planning Law (2019-2025), the DGA intends to deliver 169 Guépard helicopters to the Air Force, Army and Navy’s fleet air arm. First deliveries are to occur as early as 2026, bringing the planned date up two years from the earlier 2028 timeline.
The #H160M will be a modern and high performing multirole helicopter designed to be modular and versatile. It will be able to perform a wide range of missions required by the three branches of the French Armed Forces. #HIL #Guepard #Cheetah 🚁🐯 pic.twitter.com/gwmxEMiJ16
— Airbus Helicopters (@AirbusHeli) May 28, 2019
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 Navy will use its new units for anti-ship missions, fleet protection and at-sea rescue. The Air Force plans to utilize its helicopters for airspace protection, search-and-rescue, intelligence-gathering and deep forays behind enemy positions. The Army’s will be allocated for reconnaissance, fire support, medevac and Special Forces infiltration duties.
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.