France's DGA procurement agency is working through the definition process for the new H160M Guepard helicopters it is acquiring for all three branches of the country's armed forces under the HIL programme.

Defence minister Florence Parly in late May announced that she was advancing the schedule for the Guepard, with programme launch moving by one year – to 2021 – and first delivery by two years, to 2026.

A military version of the civil H160, the Guepard will replace five types in French military service, which by 2025 will in some cases "have an average age of 40 years", says the DGA's director of the HIL programme.

An initial prototype helicopter will fly in 2023, to validate the performance of the baseline aircraft. As lead service, the army will receive its first of 80 units in 2026, with the navy and air force receiving the first of their respective totals of 49 and 40 aircraft from 2028.

That sequence has been determined by the relative complexity of the sensors and other equipment to be integrated on the air force and navy examples, as well as other modifications, such as manually folding tail and main rotor blades for the latter's helicopters.

In addition, the air force may require the provision for in-flight refuelling, although the "technical feasibility" of such a modification is currently under evaluation by the DGA.

All three versions will be capable of being armed: the mock-up on the DGA's Paris display includes an MBDA Sea Venom anti-shipping missile and a podded machine gun.

Given the challenging environments the Guepard will operate in, notably the naval version, Airbus Helicopters is currently performing a "re-risking study" to check the durability of the materials used in its construction, says Vincent Chenot, H160M programme manager.

Beginning in early June, this activity involves flight testing equipment and materials planned for the H160M that have been installed on a French NH Industries NH90.

The Guepard will use the same twin Safran Helicopter Engines Arrano-1A powerplants as the civil variant, with no power increase required over the standard 1,280shp (955kW) take-off rating.

"Currently the power produced is sufficient to perform our missions," says the DGA programme chief.