The H175’s military version will be the newest member of the Airbus Helicopters family, filling an important gap in the product range and offering a vital replacement for Puma and Super Puma fleets. H175M Programme Leader, Gilles Arnaud, and Operational Marketing Manager, Arnaud Roux, give us the inside track on the development.
A proven design
“When I joined Airbus Helicopters two years ago, as an H175 pilot and former Puma and Super Puma military pilot, I didn’t understand why there wasn’t an H175M version already,” states Arnaud Roux, Operational Marketing Manager. “However, there are certain advantages to not arriving too early. For example, we have a platform that has been tested and proven in challenging civil conditions.”
The H175 is currently operated in some of the most challenging conditions. Today there are more than 50 in service collectively accumulating more than 130,000 flight hours. Amongst this 50, seven have totaled over 12,000 hours in public service missions, including search and rescue operations similar in scope to those that could be performed by militaries. A further 26 fly year-round in the tough operating environment of the North Sea. Based on such a solid platform, the H175M is a proven and low-risk solution. Indeed, the only changes being made to the military version are the H175’s remaining Chinese airframe components, which are being sourced from European suppliers.
A fresh start
Though born of an existing programme, the H175M still represents the opportunity to design a dedicated military cabin arrangement from a blank page, therefore completely adaptable to a particular customer’s needs. “However, in another important sense, we are not starting from scratch,” says Gilles Arnaud, H175M Programme Leader. “The H175M will benefit from the significant experience learned throughout our entire military range, allowing us to advance quickly and astutely.”
The initial development will be geared for troop transport and special forces missions, with a combat search and rescue (CSAR) and maritime security version likely to follow. With the largest fuel capacity in its market, from its completely internal fuel tank with a capacity over two metric tonnes, the H175M boasts an impressive radius of action of nearly 300 nautical miles and an endurance close to six hours, without impairing on the cabin capacity nor on the external aerodynamic shape. The H175’s public service and search and rescue use also means that it already features equipment for fast roping, EOS and a sling which will naturally be integrated into the military version. An Electronic Warfare System and machine guns which can be fired either from the front windows or from lateral doors will also be added.
With 12 cubic metres of space, the cabin will be the largest on the market for a helicopter of this size and therefore perfectly adapted to carrying troops. The interior has been ergonomically designed to seat up to 16 troops, with back-to-back foldable seats and large doors facilitating quicker and easier entry and exit for soldiers. It also features an internal cargo space of 2.3 cubic metres, easily accessible from the cabin, meaning soldiers can have vital access to additional equipment without leaving the helicopter, should it be required.
A perfect puma replacement
As product development continues, there is already clear interest from the UK Ministry of Defence as a potential customer seeking to replace its AS330 Puma fleet. Though it will undoubtedly face competition, Arnaud Roux believes there are many compelling factors that make the H175M stand out: “The avionics. Helionix ® will make a big difference. It is already one step beyond the standard glass cockpit and further reduces pilot workload. Very importantly, all British military pilots learn to fly on the H135 or H145 with Helionix, providing major benefits such as reduced training time and, in turn, allowing more time to be dedicated to specific and vital operational training.”
“Also, in terms of transport, a super-medium helicopter can comfortably accommodate between 12 and 16 troops for special forces operations. A typical special forces group is comprised of between 8 and 12 commandos. It makes more operational sense to arrive simultaneously with smaller helicopter units at several separate locations. The new generation offers new avionics, new equipment, more scope, larger fuel tank capacity – and in the military, you can never have enough fuel – so it will be attractive for many militaries looking to modernise their fleets.“
Gilles Arnaud agrees: “We are seeing a clear trend that operators are looking for lighter platforms that are more efficient and cheaper to operate and maintain than larger types. Replacing the Puma with the H175M is a good example of this. In the next 25 years, there will be a demand for 1,500 supermedium helicopters.”
Another attractive aspect of Airbus Helicopters’ offer is that should its bid be accepted by the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) the industrialisation of the H175M will take place at Airbus’ Broughton facilities. This means an important role for Airbus UK, as a significant part of the assembly, testing, training, maintenance and support of the H175M will be based there, enhancing service for the client, further reducing costs and strengthening Airbus’ British presence. Beyond any helicopters dedicated to the UK MoD, the Broughton final assembly line would deliver all H175M helicopters – creating significant export opportunities for the UK, in addition to necessitating the recruitment of many new highly skilled local workers.
Aligning the planets
With a large market and an interested launch customer lining up, it might appear that the planets are aligning to give the H175M a smooth arrival, though it is not merely coincidence. Instead, it reflects the work that is done to anticipate the needs of military customers and subsequently deliver impactful defence and security solutions that meet them.
With connectivity likely to be increasingly essential on the battlefield of the future, helicopters will continue to have an essential role in the military ecosystem to support the delivery of decisive missions and operations. The H175M, offering the optimal blend of a proven platform with latest-generation technology and sufficient adaptability to be tailored to specific operator requirements, is ready to fulfill this role.
With the programme officially launched and the prototype H175M flying, Airbus Helicopters is in great shape to address the UK requirement due to be decided in 2023.