The French defense procurement agency (DGA) has signed an order for eight additional H225M Caracal tactical transport helicopters for the French Air Force and a second VSR700 unmanned aerial vehicle prototype for the French Navy.
Delivered from 2024, the H225Ms will initiate the replacement of the SA330 Puma maneuver helicopters, whose average age is 43 years. The French Air Force already operates ten Caracal helicopters.
The order, worth around 300 million euros, is part of a stimulus plan to support the national aeronautical industry announced by the French government in 2020. For Airbus Helicopters, the plan also includes an order for two H145s for France’s Sécurité Civile and 10 H160s for the French Gendarmerie Nationale.
With more than 104 helicopters in service and more than 143,000 flight hours accumulated to date, the H225M is an 11-ton helicopter with in-flight refueling capacity, which has already been tested by the French and Brazilian air forces.
France will use the helicopters for combat/search and rescue, medical evacuation, crisis response, and tactical training. While based in the Air and Space Force’s Cazaux base in Southwest France, the helicopters will be deployed across the country and will also support the French armed forces’ operations overseas.
These contracts will benefit the French helicopter industry as a whole, including other key French aerospace providers such as Safran Helicopters Engines with the H225M’s Makila 2A engines, Safran Power Units with the Saphir 20 auxiliary power unit, Safran Electronic Defense with the electro-optical system Euroflir 410M NG and the Sigma inertial navigation system, and Thales with the VUHF radio TRA6034 and IFF transponder TSC4000.
“This is a win-win situation as the aircraft fulfill a real operational need for the French armed forces and this order allows Airbus Helicopters to secure jobs and key skills in the medium term,” said Bruno Even, Airbus Helicopters CEO.
The VSR700 UAV that has also been ordered is an unmanned aerial system Airbus is developing for the French Navy’s SDAM (Système de drone aérien de la Marine) program in partnership with Naval Group.
Derived from Hélicoptères Guimbal’s Cabri G2 manned helicopter, the VSR700 is a UAS in the 500-1000 kg maximum take-off weight range. It is capable of carrying multiple full-size naval sensors for extended periods and can operate from existing ships, alongside a helicopter.
The first prototype of the VSR700 performed its maiden flight in 2020 and has recently begun expanding its flight envelope. Most recently, the UAV pushed its speed limit to 60kts (more than 110km/h), and had accumulated more than 10 flight hours. Airbus expects to start at-sea trials with the VSR700 in 2022.