The French Directorate General of Armaments (Direction générale de l’armement, DGA) formally received the fourth H160 helicopter from the interim fleet at the Babcock site in Cannet des Maures on September 6, 2023. This event marks another step forward in the modernization of the French Naval Aviation (Aéronautique navale) assets and its ability to perform crucial sea rescue missions. The H160 helicopter, produced by Airbus Helicopters and enhanced for military applications by Babcock and Safran Helicopter Engine, is part of the Joint Light Helicopter (Hélicoptère Interarmées Léger – HIL) program. This program aims to replace several types of helicopters currently in service with the French armed forces (Forces armées françaises) and introduce a new generation of versatile and cost-effective aircraft.
These H160 helicopters have been specially configured for sea rescue operations, equipped with advanced features such as winches, Euroflir 410 optronic system from Safran Electronics & Défense, and modular cabins for optimized mission layouts. They are also certified for night vision operations, ensuring the capability to conduct rescue missions even in low-light conditions. The four H160 helicopters, including the newly received aircraft, will be gradually deployed at strategic locations, including Cherbourg airport and the Lanvéoc-Poulmic and Hyères naval air bases. These locations are strategically positioned along the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts, as well as in the English Channel and the North Sea, ensuring swift response times for sea rescue missions. Additionally, the first H160 helicopter has already been operational for “Search and Rescue” missions since the end of July, stationed at Maupertus airport near Cherbourg.
The partnership between Airbus Helicopters, Babcock, and Safran Helicopter Engines guarantees a high level of aircraft availability, which is essential for the success of sea rescue missions. This collaboration ensures that these state-of-the-art helicopters remain in optimal operational condition to serve the French Navy’s vital mission along the coastlines. The H160M, derived from the EASA-certified H160, offers enhanced operational capabilities and flight safety. Its modularity and versatility allow it to excel in a range of missions, including commando infiltration, air intercept, fire support, and anti-ship warfare. Its low operational cost further strengthens its appeal for the French armed forces. With the reception of the fourth H160 helicopter, the French Navy is well on its way to achieving an upgraded and more efficient sea rescue capability, ensuring the safety of maritime operations and personnel in the vast coastal regions it serves.