The contract includes the development of several prototypes and the delivery of a first batch of 30 aircraft (21 for the army, 8 for the navy and one for the air force). The French Ministry for the Armed Forces plans to order a total of 169 H160M helicopters, or Guépard as it will be known in the French armed forces. Deliveries will start in 2027 beginning with the French Army. Among the whole fleet, 49 helicopters will be produced for the French Navy, with a first delivery expected in 2029.
Besides the helicopters, the contract includes the development of a training and support system and the fleet support starting delivery of the first helicopter. Production is to take place in four batches over a period of 10 years.
Bruno Even, CEO of Airbus Helicopters said:
“The Guépard is the result of ten years of close cooperation with the DGA and the French armed forces. 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. Having the French armed forces, a world reference, as our launch customer for the H160M is extremely valuable.”
The H160 was designed to be a modular helicopter, enabling its military version, with a single platform, to perform missions for air-sea combat, protection and support of the naval force, special naval actions, State action at sea for the naval version. To ensure a high level of availability while reducing operating costs, the H160M’s support and services needs were taken into account from early in its design phase. Innovative and simplified, the H160M’s support is based on the exploitation of data through analytics.
Airbus Helicopters will guarantee a high level of availability through an innovative maintenance contract. Airbus Helicopters commits to an innovative management of maintenance and aircraft availability through a dedicated organization that has proven to be successful. This organization was introduced with the global support contract signed in 2020 for the French Cougar and Caracal fleet and has led to a significant increase in aircraft availability.
Trials conducted in the Moroccan desert in July 2021 demonstrated the efficiency of the H160’s inlet barrier filtration system in protecting the Safran Arrano engines against sand ingestion. The tests in the desert also demonstrated the efficiency of the automatic flight control system during the takeoff and landing operations with limited visibility due to sand clouds. The H160M will be ready to operate in the roughest conditions.
The military version of the H160 will be more discreet than previous helicopters with a reduced acoustic signature made possible by the Blue Edge blades. The H160’s stability, maneuverability, and an automatic flight control system will be key assets for the military version. The H160M will be equipped with Airbus Helicopters’ HForce weapon system, a modular and incremental solution enabling the use of a large choice of weapons. Equipment will also include a hoist and a fast roping arm.
The Guépard offers an operational range of 700 km and an autonomy of 4 hours. Its maximum speed is 260 km / h. In addition to its crew (2 pilots), it can transport five equipped soldiers or a stretcher with a medical team. It will also be able to be refueled by a KC-130J aircraft in a later increment.
The H160M Guépard will be equipped with the Safran Euroflir 410 electro-optical system, the Thales FlytX cockpit avionics suite, and the AirMaster C AESA 2D tactical radar for the Navy and Air Force variant. The pilots will be able to use the Thales TopOwl Helmet-mounted Sight & Display. The Guépard will also carry a self-protection suite, a satellite communication system and tactical data link system. The weapon package will include the MBDA ANL anti-ship missile, pod mounted and door mounted guns.
Meanwhile, the French Navy will start operating an interim fleet of 6 commercial H160 helicopters in 2022 for a period of ten years. The selection of the Euroflir™410 optronic (electro-optical) system for the interim fleet was announced by Safran in September 2020.