The French army has begun early definition work with Airbus Helicopters on the H160Ms it will obtain as part of a tri-service procurement.
Paris in March 2017 selected the developmental H160M to form the basis of its hélicoptère interarmées léger (HIL) programme, splitting 160-190 rotorcraft between the air force, army and navy to replace a sizeable fleet of aged types. Deliveries were due to start in 2024, but this is likely to be pushed back when France publishes its defence spending plan later this year.
In the army's case, the H160Ms will be used to supplant around 80 Aérospatiale SA342 Gazelles, which are employed in an armed scout role.
The exact split between the three services is yet to be determined, but Lt Gen Michel Grintchenko, head of French army aviation, says he is "confident that we will get a like-for-like replacement".
In addition, Grintchenko, speaking at the Defence IQ International Military Helicopter conference in London on 31 January, said he had a "box full of ideas" for how to employ the new aircraft, which will be bigger than the Gazelle, and take advantage of the greater range and endurance offered.
Potential roles include medevac, armed scout, and command and control, says Grintchenko.
Col Pierre Verborg, head of operations at French army aviation, says the H160M will be able to carry five to six troops.
It will be armed with two 7.62mm door-mounted machine guns, as well as a larger 20mm gun and TDA Armements Aculeus laser-guided rockets.
In addition, Verborg is confident that the H160M's sustainment costs will be cheaper than previous products from the France-headquartered airframer, such as the Tiger attack helicopter.
"We are working to ensure that Airbus Helicopters will provide this helicopter with a lower maintenance cost," he says.
"I think we will be luckier with the H160 than with other platforms as it will be provided to the civil market first."
HIL will be the final part of a modernisation effort for the French army that will see it operating a 300-strong fleet of new-generation helicopters – comprising the H160M, Tiger and NH Industries NH90 – by 2024.
The Tiger attack helicopter fleet will also undergo an upgrade in the mid-2020s, as it is raised to the as-yet-defined Mk III standard.
Improvements to its targeting, communications and data systems are envisaged, as well as the likely integration of MBDA Brimstone anti-tank missiles. However, the addition of the munition is dependent on reaching an agreement with the other Tiger operating nations: Germany, Spain and possibly Australia.
Definition of the final configuration for the Mk III upgrade is due in 2018 or 2019.