On 20 May 2021, the Direction Générale de l'Armement (DGA, French Defence Procurement Agency) confirmed that two additional Airbus H160 helicopters have been ordered for use with the Marine Nationale (French Navy).
These helicopters will join the fleet of four H160s already contracted in 2020, the first of which is currently being assembled by Airbus Helicopters in Marignane (France).
The six H160s will be delivered in a Search and Rescue (SAR) configuration and will gradually start operating from May 2022 from Lanveoc-Poulmic naval air station (Britany), Cherbourg airport (Normandy) and Hyères naval air station (Provence).
The new interim helicopters will be operated for a period of ten years and will take over the SAR missions currently conducted by the NH90s and Panthers, allowing these combat helicopters to fulfil their main tasks at sea on board combat vessels. The H160s will be modified into a light military configuration by Babcock, a provider of critical, complex engineering services to governments, to answer to the needs of the French Navy. The helicopters will be equipped with a winch and a modular cabin that can be optimised for each mission. Certification for use of night vision goggles necessary for winching operations at night is part of the contract.
On 24 February 2020, Scramble Magazine reported on the Joint Light Helicopter programme (Hélicoptère Interarmées Léger: HIL) in which 169 Airbus H160M Guépard (Cheetah) helicopters are foreseen to replace four types of helicopters in service in the French armed forces; the Dauphin, Gazelle, Fennec and Panther.
Photo by Airbus Helicopters