A partnership between Airbus Helicopters, Safran Helicopter Engines, and Babcock has delivered the first of six Airbus H160s to the Marine Nationale (French navy). They will be used for search and rescue (SAR) duties at locations around the French coast, allowing NH90s and Panthers to concentrate on their primary shipborne missions.
“The delivery of the first H160 to a military customer is a major milestone for the H160 program,” said Bruno Even, CEO of Airbus Helicopters. “With this H160 we will strengthen our partnership with the French Navy, delivering the right helicopter for its critical search and rescue missions.”
The Direction Généralement de l’Armament (general armament directorate) signed a contract with the consortium in January 2020 for four commercial-standard H160s outfitted in SAR configuration, adding two more in May of the following year. The first H160 for the French Navy began test flights in February 2022 and was delivered to Babcock in May for outfitting with SAR equipment and a Safran Euroflir 410 electro-optical sensor system. Babcock will also participate in the maintenance of the helicopters, which are to be operated under a 10-year contract.
The H160s will first be assigned to Flottille 32F at Lanvéoc-Poulmic in Brittany, with detachments at Hyères (Provence) and Cherbourg (Normandy). Training support is likely to be conducted by Escadrille 22S at Lanvéoc.
France has acquired these H160s as an interim measure in advance of the major tri-service procurement of a planned 169 fully militarized H160Ms—named Guépard (cheetah) in French military service. Experience with the SAR aircraft will be fed into the ongoing development of the H160M and its associated support systems. The first is expected in service with the French army in 2027, with the navy expecting its first Guépard Marine in 2029.