Australia and France are investigating a potential joint requirement for a special forces variant of the NH Industries (NHI) NH90 to trim development costs.
With only a small pool of helicopters requiring modification, France would look to share the financial commitment, says Maj Gen Olivier de la Motte, commander, French army aviation.
“We are speaking about a common version at the moment with Australia,” he said on the sidelines of the IQPC International Military Helicopter conference on 18 January. “We could have the same version for both forces.”
French army aviation operates eight Airbus Helicopters H225M Caracals for the mission. However later this decade the Caracals will transfer across to the air force, potentially leaving a capability gap.
Canberra, meanwhile, relies on a fleet of ageing Sikorsky S-70As to support its special operations units.
Both nations have substantial fleets of NH90s on order: Australia will eventually field a fleet of 47 of the troop transports, while the French army will have a 74-strong inventory, having added a six-unit order in January.
No decision has been made on whether to replace the departing H225Ms – either through new helicopters or modifications to the existing fleet – but the service is keen to ensure “we have the same number of airframes for each command”, says an army source.
Its special forces are in the early stages of drawing up the technical specification for any replacement, with the requirements likely to encompass a central trapdoor for fast roping, a rear door gun and changes to the communications suite.
“It is very early in the process,” says the source. “Our special forces would like the NH90, but want them to a certain specification. They make a request and then there will be an answer – yes to everything, yes to some things, or no to everything. Then [if appropriate] they will have to decide what they can do without."