France accelerates joint light helicopter program

France is speeding up its helicopter program that will see one platform replace five legacy helicopters across the three branches of the country’s armed forces.

In an announcement on May 27, French defense minister Florence Parly announced that the launch of the Joint Light Helicopter (Hélicoptère Interarmées Léger; HIL) program had been brought forward to 2021.

The HIL programme, for which the Airbus Helicopters’ H160 was selected in 2017, was initially scheduled for launch in 2022 by the current military budget law.

Launching the program 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 the next Paris Air Show.

The helicopter was also given its official name and will be designated as “Guépard” (“Cheetah”) by the French Armed Forces.

The H160 was designed to be a modular helicopter, enabling its military version, with a single platform, to perform missions ranging from anti-ship warfare, commando infiltration, fire support and air intercept.

In its navy configuration, the helicopter will carry the MBDA-developed Anti-Navire Léger (ANL) anti-ship missile. The navy is slated to receive a total of 49 units.

“We are proud that the HIL is considered a strategic program. I would like to thank the ministry, the French defense procurement agency DGA and the armed forces for their trust and for the close collaboration which helped create the conditions for the program to be brought forward within the framework of the current military budget law,” said Bruno Even, CEO of Airbus Helicopters.

Airbus says the HIL program will benefit from many of the advantages in the civil H160, with simplified maintenance and lower operating costs than the previous generation of helicopters in this category.

Photo: Airbus

Photo: Airbus photo of the full-scale mock-up of the H160M