PARIS – The French Armed Forces will get the first of their 169 H160M light helicopters two years ahead of schedule, Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly announced Monday during a visit to Airbus Helicopters’ headquarters in Marignane, France.

The helicopter, which will be designated as “Guépard” (cheetah), is now scheduled to be operational in the army, navy and air force by 2026, with a procurement program launched in 2021, a year earlier than planned in the current 2019-2025 military program law.

The Guépard helos are designed make up the future fleet of HILs, short for Hélicoptère Interarmées Léger, or joint light helicopter.

The program aims to provide the three forces with a fleet consisting of just one type of helicopter to replace the five in operation today, some of which date back to the 1970s: the Gazelles in the army; the Alouettes III, Dauphins and Panthers in the navy; and the Fennecs in the air force. With only one type of helicopter in operation, the three forces will be able to share development costs and support, notably by buying spare parts in bulk, the government’s thinking goes.

The H160M is the militarised version of the civilian H160, developed by Airbus Helicopters. It will be used by the army for reconnaissance, fire support, infilitrating special forces and medical evacuations. The navy will use it for anti-ship missions, fleet protection and sea rescues. The air force will use it for protecting airspace, search and rescue, intelligence missions and for operations deep behind enemy lines.

The DGA French procurement agency is currently working on the performance requirements for the Guépard, especially in areas specific to the military such as avionics and radar capabilities. Together with the joint chiefs of staff, the DGA will continue to define the helicopter and its support system until the program is officially launched.

The H160 will be equipped with the Arrano engine made by Safran. A full-scale mockup of the helicopter will be exhibited on the Ministry of the Armed Forces stand at the Paris Air Show next month.