The French air force is to almost double its inventory of Eurocopter EC725 combat search-and-rescue helicopters, with a new batch of five aircraft to be delivered between late 2010 and 2012.

Six EC725s are in air force service, with three of these having been assigned to duties in Afghanistan since December 2006 as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. The 11t-class helicopters are used to provide medical evacuation, troop transport and personnel recovery services.

Speaking at IQPC's Military Helicopter conference in London on 28 April, French air force CSAR liaison officer Lt Herve Dechoux said the service is looking to incorporate several enhancements with its current EC725s as a result of lessons learned in Afghanistan.

Eurocopter EC725
  © Patrick Penna/Eurocopter

"We need satellite communications, and fast," says Dechoux, with the equipment's integration having taken precedence over the planned introduction of a Link 16 datalink. Personnel recovery team members will also be trained to deploy mortars against Taliban militants, following the experience of several combat engagements involving the EC725, he says.

The "Caracal" force has meanwhile also practised air-dropping equipment from an altitude of 300ft (91m), and conducted air-to-air refuelling trials using a tanker-equipped Italian air force Lockheed Martin C-130J transport. Further refuelling tests will be performed within the next few months in collaboration with the US Air Force, says Dechoux, with training also be performed in urban environments.

French EC725s and CSAR/joint personnel recovery assets from several other nations will participate in a European Air Group-managed exercise to be conducted from the French air force's Cazaux airbase around September-October.

The French army also has eight EC725s in use, while Brazil late last year signed a deal to acquire 50 of the type.

Source: Flight International