Airbus Helicopters is showing a model of its H160M multi-role helicopter (Hall 5A, Stand C158), which has been selected by France to replace seven fleets of helicopters in service with the air force, army and navy.
Being procured under the Hélicoptère Interarmées Léger (HIL, light joint-service helicopter) programme, the H160M is a militarised version of the new generation of Airbus commercial helicopters that arose from the X4 technology demonstrator.
France has stated a requirement for 169 H160Ms in three versions. That proposed for the Marine Nationale is to replace the Dauphin, Panther and Alouette III. Key features of the naval shipborne version are folding rotor blades and tail fin, deck recovery harpoon, search radar, door gun and ANL next-generation light anti-surface missiles. Weaponisation of all versions employs the HForce system devised by Airbus.
In Armée de Terre service the H160M is intended to replace the Fennec and Gazelle in roles such as armed scout. The aircraft are proposed with a forward-firing 20mm cannon mounted on the port side weapon stub and Thales FZ275 laser-guided rockets, as well as 7.62mm door guns.
The Armée de l’Air is slated to receive 38 H160Ms to replace its Fennecs and Pumas. The air force has a requirement for its aircraft to be inflight-refuellable from C-130J and A400M tankers. They will likely be armed with cannon and door guns, and tasked with roles including search and rescue; anti-helicopter/UAV; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR); and close support.
Like all versions, they will feature an undernose electrooptical sensor turret. The HIL aircraft will also be required to work in co-operation with UAVs in manned-unmanned teams (MUM-Ts). Airbus recently performed MUM-T trials in Austria involving an H145 operating with a Schiebel Camcopter.
The three civilian-standard H160 prototypes have completed around 800 hours of flight-testing as part of a campaign that is expected to lead to certification after between 1,100 and 1,200 hours. Hot-and-high trials are to be undertaken in Denver, Colorado, later this month.
The H160M was selected by the French government to fulfil the HIL requirement in March 2017, but as yet there have been no orders. The HIL was not funded in the 2019-25 defence procurement plan, but should be included in the following plan, with deliveries perhaps possible from 2028. In the interim, Airbus continues to study configurations with the three services, a process that could lead to some alterations.