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Military Capabilities

French Army looks to fixed-wing aircraft to reduce cost of some helicopter operations

31 January 2018

The French Army is considering the use of fixed-wing aircraft in place of helicopters as it looks to reduce costs while maintaining its operational capabilities, a senior official said on 31 January.

While the French Army does already field a number of fixed-wing aircraft, such as the PC-6 pictured, more could be acquired to take over particular roles from helicopters in a bid to reduce costs. (Paul Jackson)While the French Army does already field a number of fixed-wing aircraft, such as the PC-6 pictured, more could be acquired to take over particular roles from helicopters in a bid to reduce costs. (Paul Jackson)

Speaking at the IQPC Military Helicopter conference in London, the commander of the French Army Air Corps (Aviation Légère de l'Armée de Terre: ALAT) said that, with his helicopters currently suffering from poor availability rates on account of intensive operations and the need to return airframes to their manufacturers for intensive upgrades, the option of using cheaper to operate fixed-wing aircraft is being keenly considered.

“Why do I need to use a helicopter to do this particular mission; it has to be because I have something to do on the ground [and need to land in a confined area]. If I don’t need to do anything on the ground [such as area surveillance or close air support], then why don’t I use a fixed-wing aircraft instead? It is much cheaper,” Lieutenant General Michel Gritchenko said.

The ALAT currently operates close to 300 helicopters of various types and roles, as well as a small numbers of fixed-wing platforms. Helicopters comprise 62 Airbus Helicopters Tigers, 99 Aerospatiale Gazelles, 8 Airbus Helicopters Caracals, 23 NHIndustries NH90s, 68 Aerospatiale Pumas, and 26 Airbus Helicopters Cougars. Fixed-wing types comprise five Pilatus PC-6 Turbo Porters and eight TBM-700s that are used mainly in the liaison and light transport roles.

Of its helicopters, the ALAT is currently down by about 60 platforms that are undergoing depot-level upgrades, and has an overall rotary-winged availability rate of about 60%. While Gen Gritchenko did not elaborate on its future fixed-wing plans, Jane’s understands that the army is considering a number of Pilatus PC-12s that could be equipped with electro-optic/infrared sensors and offensive weaponry such as rockets.

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