In 2019, the Minister of the Armed Forces, Florence Parly, decided to accelerate the light joint helicopter program by one year. [HIL] “Cheetah” compared to what had been provided for by the Military Programming Law [LPM] 2019-25 so that the first of the 169 units to be ordered could be delivered to the forces from 2026.
The objective was then to hasten the withdrawal of the oldest devices [Alouette III, Fennec, Dauphin, Panther et Gazelle] in order to achieve significant savings in terms of Maintenance in operational condition [MCO]. In return, Airbus Helicopters was to grant payment facilities, relying on the fact that the entry into service of the Guépard within the French forces would facilitate its export.
Since then, the crisis linked to the covid-19 pandemic having passed through this, it is not known whether this agreement is still valid … In any case, this December 22, the Ministry of the Armed Forces announced that it had just notified the contract acquisition and support of 169 helicopters for Airbus Helicopters.
In detail, this order for 169 Cheetahs – including the first 30 in firm phase – is part of a global market valued at 10 billion euros. This includes the development and delivery of the devices, the supply of the support and training system as well as the MCO for ten years.
The Ministry of the Armed Forces specifies that this contract also takes into account the order of ten H160 helicopters. [dont est dérivé le Guépard, ndlr] for the National Gendarmerie for 200 million euros, as announced during the presentation of the support plan for the aeronautical industry, in June 2020. In addition, it is also question for Airbus Helicopters to deliver to the DGA “Flight tests “An H160” test bench “to ensure” flight tests for the development and qualification of equipment and future weapon systems “.
“By ensuring the progressive replacement of 5 different types of aircraft, some of which have been in service for over 40 years, the Cheetah will provide our armies with the means to carry out their missions more effectively for the next 40 years. This program perpetuates the know-how and jobs of Airbus Helicopters, the European leader in civil and military helicopters, ”said Ms. Parly.
Army Light Aviation [ALAT] will receive 80 copies of the Cheetah, which it will use for armed reconnaissance, infiltration of special forces, fire support and command support. The French Navy will have 49 aircraft for air-sea combat, the protection and support of the naval force, special operations and State action at sea. Finally, the Air & Space Army will use its 40 new helicopters for airspace surveillance and defense [mission MASA], search and rescue and intelligence.
According to the Ministry of the Armed Forces, the first Guépards will be delivered in 2027 while the development work will last until 2029. And, he stressed, this order “will secure the activity of the Airbus Helicopters site in Marignane for the next 15 years. “This is a program that will irrigate the entire French aeronautical sector, in particular its SMEs across the country, with 80% of the suppliers of H160 parts installed in France, mainly in the south. In total, more than 2,000 jobs will be permanently located in France by the Guépard and its derivatives for export ”.
As a reminder, twin-engine, with a mass of 5.5 to 6 tons, the Cheetah will be able to fly at a speed of 180 knots, while being significantly quieter than the devices it will replace. Concentrating no less than 68 innovations and having to be equipped with tactical data links, new radars and other optronic sensors, it will be refueled in flight. On the armament side, if nothing has been definitively decided, it should be equipped with a 20 mm cannon, two machine guns [de sabord et axiale] and guided rockets.