The French Minister of the Armed Forces, Florence Parly, has announced that the launch of the Joint Light Helicopter (Hélicoptere Interarmées Léger; HIL) programme has 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 programme 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 commando infiltration to air intercept, fire support, and anti-ship warfare in order to meet the needs of the army, the navy and the air force through the HIL programme. Built around a platform that will enter service next year, the HIL programme will benefit from many of the advantages inherent in the civil H160, particularly in terms of support, with simplified maintenance and lower operating costs than the previous generation of helicopters in this category.
The first examples will go to the French Army, followed by the French Navy in 2028 and then the French Air Force. The army is set to receive 80 examples, the navy 49 and the air force 40. Certification of the 1,280shp (941kW) Safran Arrano engine was completed last June. Further developments have included modifications to the airframe and addition of new Thales FlytX avionics. Under the nose of the mock-up on display at Donauwörth was a Safran Euroflir 410 and a Thales three-podded tactical radar. The naval version will have folding rotor blades and reinforced landing gear. Armament will include the MBDA Sea Venom anti-ship missile and the HForce kit with 12.7mm calibre machine guns and capacity for laserguided rockets and 20mm cannon. Cabin-mounted armament could include a pintle-mounted 7.62mm calibre machine gun or sniper rifle.
H160M Guepard joint light helicopter design and features
H160M is a military version of the H160 medium-lift utility helicopter, which was first unveiled at the Heli-Expo show held in Orlando, Florida, US, in March 2015. Based on a civil platform, the H160M will ensure simplified maintenance and reduced operating costs than the old-generation of rotorcraft in its class.
The modular design of the H160 also allows for the integration of mission systems to configure the H160M platform for deployment in multiple missions.
The H160M will feature a composite fuselage to achieve weight reductions and fuel savings. It will be equipped with cutting-edge technologies such as Blue Edge five-bladed main rotor, which can reduce the acoustic signature by 50% and increase the lift by 100kg when compared to conventional rotor blades.
The helicopter will also feature a Spheriflex bearingless main rotor hub, which is designed to minimise weight and optimise damage tolerance. Its main rotor will have a diameter of 13.4m. The tail assembly will include a canted Fenestron anti-torque tail rotor.
H160M’s undercarriage will feature a tricycle-type landing gear with a nose unit and two main units. The nose wheel will be fitted with twin wheels, while the main units will be installed with a single wheel unit each.
The helicopter can be armed with MBDA’s Sea Venom (ANL) anti-ship missiles (ASMs) to perform anti-ship warfare missions. The over-the-horizon missile can engage targets within the range of 20km.
H160M’s cockpit will accommodate up to two crew members. It will be equipped with the Helionix avionics suite, which integrates up to four multi-functional displays.
The spacious cabin offers an internal volume of more than 7m³ and can house up to 12 armed personnel.
The H160 Guepard will be powered by two Safran Arrano turboshaft engines supplied by Safran Helicopter Engines. The engine will feature a two-stage centrifugal compressor, a reverse-flow combustion chamber, and a single-stage power turbine. It is expected to deliver a maximum power output of 1,300hp.
The power-plant will reduce fuel consumption by 15% when compared to its counterparts and will also increase the payload-range performance of the H160M. The time between overhauls (TBO) of the Safran Arrano engine is 5,000 hours.
The French armed forces are to procure 169 H160Ms as part of the Hélicoptere Interarmées Léger (Joint Light Helicopter) programme, which will replace older rotary fleets across all three services.