The H160M "Guepard" new-generation helicopter is a "medium twin" (medium-lift, twin-engine) militarized form of the original H160 X4 prototype helicopter developed by the French concern of Airbus Helicopters to satisfy the Joint Light Helicopter (JLH) program requirements of the French Armed Forces. The X4 took to the skies for the first time on June 13th, 2015 and was quickly marketed to interested parties thereafter. Offering a sleek appearance through fine design lines and skillful contouring, the platform gained interest from the French Armed Forces who preceded to adopt it through its M-model militarized form. The series is set for its own first flight in 2023 with deliveries to commence in 2026.
In French military service, the type is expected to stock the inventories of the French Army (80 examples), Navy (49 examples), and Air force (40 examples) - succeeding a collection of aging types in a broad collection of roles.
The H160M is developed with a "modular" mission set approach allowing the single airframe to be converted to fulfill a variety of over-battlefield roles. This includes general utility sorties as well as passenger transport, Search and Rescue (SAR), Medical Evacuation (MEDEVAC), and special forces support. Furthermore, the platform can be outfitted with pintle-mounted machine guns and sniper rifles as well as fuselage side-mounted machine guns (12.7mm HMP400 types) and anti-ship missiles to offer on-the-spot fire support services in the Close-Air Support (CAS) role for allied ground elements. Its versatility can also allow the helicopter to operate over-water in search for enemy vessels (to engage with missiles) or downed airmen. For the latter, the helicopter can be equipped with a powered winch system. An external cargo-carrying capability is also in-built, allowing sling loads.
The H160M sports such features as full-digital engine implementation, advanced cockpit and avionics, "Blue Edge" main rotor blades for reduced operating noises, a shrouded Fenestron tail rotor unit (further reducing noise levels), reduced maintenance requirements and maintenance costs over the life of the platform, and enhanced survivability.
Its overall configuration is highly conventional: the helicopter seats its crew of two in a side-by-side arrangement aft of a nose assembly. The positions are divided by a shared center console and vision out-of-the-cockpit is enhanced thanks to liberal use of windows offering elevated situational awareness. The cockpit front panel sports three large, full-color displays providing pertinent systems status and mission information. Conventional (redundant) control sticks and foot pedals will handle the helicopter's control scheme.
Under the radar-housing nose is a turreted Electro-Optical system. Ports along the fuselage sides offer pintle-mounted armament positions and, aft of this, is the passenger area complete with sliding fuselage doors. The engines are paired above the cabin roof in the usual way with the main rotor sitting close to the fuselage roof line. Exhaust ports for the engines blow upwards. The tail unit is elevated in the design and incorporates the typical elements such as rudder fin, horizontal tailplanes (the stabilizers being of a rather unique biplane design), and various antenna.
In French Army service, the H160M will be integrated into the battle command system in place that allows for unfettered support of active ground elements. Protected communications will allow information sharing with all involved parties to form a potent multi-pronged approach to engagements of enemy forces. For the French Navy, the helicopter will become a fixture of in-service warships, launched and retrieved from their decks and provide a critical over-the-horizon capability offering protection, airspace denial, rescue service, and an anti-ship capability. Shipboard storage will be aided by the main blades conveniently folding (manual acutation) rearwards over the tail. The French Air Force will benefit from the systems inherent versatility, providing SAR services as well as armed escort, fire support, and reconnaissance fulfillment.
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May 2019 - Airbus Helicopters is pushing through an accelerated procurement process to bring the H160M military model to service. Some 169 examples are sought by the French military (Army, Navy, and Air Force). These will be designated as H160M "Guepard" ("Cheetah"). A first-flight is tentatively scheduled for 2023 with service entry to follow in 2026.
December 2020 - The French Ministry of Defence is set to order 30 H160M helicopters in 2021 of which 21 will be sent to the army, 8 to the Navy, and a single example to the Air Force.
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