The French defense ministry has awarded Airbus further funds for work on the development of the Cheetah helicopter that will be based on the company’s H160 model.
The latest contract is part of the country’s Joint Light Helicopter program (Hélicoptère Interarmées Léger: HIL) and launches pre-development activities in order to meet the delivery schedule that was brought forward in May 2019 by the French armed forces minister Florence Parly.
The new set of studies will also focus on defining the optimal set-up for supporting the tri-service H160M fleet. Airbus Helicopters, Safran Helicopter Engines, and the DGA will work together in order to maximize the availability rate of the helicopters, as well as optimizing the cost of supporting the fleet.
The new helicopter is set to replace the Army’s Gazelles, the French Navy’s Alouette III, Dauphins and Panthers, and the Air Force’s Fennec helicopters.
“Launching this collaborative work between industry and the armed forces ministry in order to define the support framework for the Cheetah and the associated processes, as early as the pre-development phase, is essential. The output will provide us with all the levers necessary to ensure a high level of availability at the H160M’s entry into service in the French armed forces,” said Alexandra Cros, vice president and head of governmental affairs France at Airbus Helicopters.
A full-scale launch of the program is scheduled to take place in 2021.
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.
According to Airbus, bringing the launch of the HIL programme forward to 2021 will enable first deliveries to the French armed forces in 2026.