France Considers Accelerating Acquisition of Light Helicopters
France has announced that they are currently in the process of making a major decision regarding the light and medium helicopters operated and manned by all three branches of its armed forces. Under the current timeline, Paris has until 2020 to begin the acquisition process under the HIL programme otherwise known as Nascent Helicoptere Interarmees Leger. The primary problem facing the DGA is that many of the aged type helicopters are nearing the expiration date for their operational capacity.
The Navy’s 22 Aerospatiale Alouette IIIs are one of many that are beginning the descent into their twilight years. This has prompted the DGA to issue a statement that with the expiration deadline looming in the horizon, the DGA will be looking to develop possible solutions as well as make a decision on whether or not the program will be accelerated by 2017. The main problem with HIL lies in the fact that there are simply too large a range of helicopters with different weight with different functions to perform missions of varied necessities. Among the helicopters that would need to be replaced are SA330 Pumas, SA341/342 Gazelles, Airbus AS555 Fennec light attack rotorcraft, AS365 Dauphin, AS565 Panthers, and the aforementioned Alouette IIIs.
It is estimated that some 422 new helicopters will have to be replaced if France decides to overhaul their entire inventory and replace it on a like-for-like basis. The most feasible and likely solution would require the DGA to replace the helicopters with varied roles with a single or several models that will utilized across the entire spectrum of mission needs. For now the program is tentatively scheduled to have new helicopters arrive as early as 2020 with the realistic expectation for a fleet to arrive by 2022. Major Gen Olivier de la Motte spoke at a recent conference and noted that the Gazelle fleet will be retired by 2028 due to attrition from the Mali operations. This along with other fleets nearing their expiration shelf-life has made the HIL plans a matter of pressing importance.
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