Airbus Helicopters has unveiled a common weapons system for its range of civil-derived military helicopters, giving operators an affordable and incremental upgrade path.
In development for the last two years, the new system – dubbed HForce – will initially be available on the H225M, with a number of integration milestones already passed, says Philippe Kohn, operational marketing manager at the manufacturer.
So far ballistic weapons have been added to the 11t-class platform, including an FN Herstal 12.7mm machine gun, Nexter 20mm cannon and 70mm unguided rockets. Live test firings as part of a qualification campaign will take place later this year.
Integration of guided weapons will be complete by year-end, adds Kohn.
Key to HForce is the use of a common Rockwell Collins Deutschland mission management system across the three helicopters initially enrolled in the programme: the 2.5t H125M, the medium-class H145M, and the heavy H225M.
This will allow operators to order the helicopter in a baseline configuration without weapons, yet still retain the ability to easily upgrade them.
“Incremental means you will buy the helicopter you need when you can afford it because we can come back to plug and play weapons on it,” says Kohn, who describes the solution as a “Swiss Army knife”.
He says: “Even if you buy Option Zero [on the H125M] your neighbours know you will be able to transform it into a light attack helicopter very quickly.”
Ballistic weapons can be fired by the pilot alone, using his helmet-mounted sight display, or with the addition of an electro-optical/infrared targeting sensor – initially the L-3 Wescam MX-15/20 – the co-pilot can effectively act as a gunner. Guided weapons would also be controlled by the gunner.
“For the first time on such a commercial helicopter we can split the workload in two… just like on an attack helicopter,” says Kohn.
Around eight potential nations are “deeply interested” in acquiring new helicopters equipped with HForce, he says. The H225M being utilised for flight testing is a customer model, taken from the line early in anticipation of a three- or four-unit order.
Two additional countries are keen on a retrofit programme. This is mainly focussed on the installation of the new mission computer and electrical systems.
Air-to-ground guided missiles will be available on request, although the customer will fund the integration work. And, depending on customer demand, air-to-air missiles could be provided later.
“But the key is to gather all these things into an incremental weapons system. If a customer comes and asks us for something different – a specific machine gun, for example – then we will have to develop it,” says Kohn.
“But we wanted to be realistic. We have the people who have the knowledge to integrate on all kinds of helicopters these kinds of weapons.”