France has decided to phase out its aging military helicopters. It already has an advanced fighter, the Rafale jet in its air force, and is working on the Future Combat Aircraft System (FCAS).
Now, France has awarded a contract Airbus to commence manufacturing of the H160M Guépard helicopter, popularly called the ‘Cheetah’ for the country’s military, reported Janes. The announcement was made by the French Defense Minister Florence Parly on December 22.
According to Parly, Airbus Helicopters will produce 169 H160M choppers, plus options for the French Air and Space Force, French Army Aviation, and the French Navy starting in 2027. Separately, the European Union stated that the contract is worth 8.6 billion euro ($9.8 billion).
— Airbus PRESS (@AirbusPRESS) December 22, 2021
“The Cheetah is a brand-new helicopter,” said Parly. It will take the place of five distinct helicopters, some of which have been in service for more than four decades. “A concrete example of our equipment renewal, the Cheetah will be used by all three branches of the military,” she said.
“It’s a first. This will increase its availability while also lowering maintenance expenditures”, explained the Defense Minister.
This statement is indicative of the French eagerness to deploy the same helicopter to all three military services which will increase joint preparedness, enhance inter-operability, and significantly decrease costs.
The agreement covers the development of different H160M prototypes as well as the initial delivery of 21 Guepards to the French Army, eight to the French Navy, and one to the French Air Force.
The H160M helicopter, according to Airbus CEO Bruno Even, would give the French military new capabilities because it was built and equipped to withstand modern warfare.
“Having the French armed forces as our launch customer for the H160M is tremendously beneficial,” Even added, noting that the helicopter is the culmination of a 10-year collaboration between the firm and the French Armament General Directorate (DGA).
This statement means that France will become the maiden customer and flyer of the Cheetah Helicopters. The H160M is the military version of the EASA-certified H160 which had undergone testing in Morocco earlier.
In the trials conducted, the efficiency of the inlet barrier filtration system for the Safran Arrano engines, as well as the performance of the automatic flight control system during takeoff and landing in severe “brown-out” conditions caused by billowing sand was demonstrated.
Light Joint Helicopter Program
The Light Joint Helicopter program was designed to replace five different helicopter fleets with a single fleet that would be operated by all three branches of the French armed forces. Some of the existing choppers date back to the 1970s: Gazelles in the Army, Alouettes III, Dauphins, and Panthers in the Navy, and Fennecs in the Air force.
The government believes that by having only one type of helicopter in service, the military forces will be able to save money on development because spare parts can be purchased in bulk, according to Defense Post.
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The Army will utilize the H160M Cheetah for reconnaissance, fire support, special force infiltration, and medical evacuations. It will be used for anti-ship missions, fleet protection, and marine rescues by the navy. The air force will use it to guard airspace, conduct search and rescue missions, conduct intelligence missions, and conduct operations deep behind enemy lines.
However, the French ‘Cheetah’ is not the same as the Indian ‘Cheetah’ that has been operational for a long time now.
French ‘Cheetah’ and Indian ‘Cheetah’
The French H160M ‘Cheetah’ is the militarized version of the civilian H160, developed by Airbus Helicopters. It is a twin-seater chopper powered by two Safran Arrano turboshaft engines with an expected maximum power output of 1,300hp. The H160’s modular design allows for the incorporation of mission systems, allowing the platform to be configured for numerous missions.
The H160M will have a composite fuselage to reduce weight and fuel consumption. When compared to conventional rotor blades, it will be fitted with cutting-edge technology such as the Blue Edge five-bladed main rotor, which can lower acoustic signature by 50% and enhance lift by 100kg. It will be used by all three services of the French military to perform intelligence gathering and combat operations.
On the other hand, the Indian Cheetah is identical to Eurocopter’s LAMA SA 315B. India’s state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) signed a license agreement for Cheetah with M/s SNIAS (later Airbus) in 1970. First Cheetah manufactured from raw materials was delivered in 1976-77, according to HAL.
It is a five-seater helicopter that is multifunctional, multi-role, multi-purpose, extremely nimble, and built tough and that can operate in a wide variety of weight, center of gravity, and altitude circumstances. The Cheetah retains the world record for high-altitude flight in all helicopter categories. The Artouste – III B turbo-shaft engine powers the helicopter.
Commuting, observation, surveillance, logistics assistance, rescue operations, and high-altitude missions are all conducted with the Indian Cheetah. HAL has developed and sold over 275 of these multi-purpose helicopters, which are now in service in India and overseas.
However, the Indian government has been looking at phasing them out as they have now outlived their utility. There are more than 300 aging helicopters with the Indian military, many of which are the Cheetahs.