Already in service, the H145M and the H225M have proven their worth, while the NH90 is evolving to adapt to the specific needs of the special forces with the upcoming Standard 2.
“Nowhere without us” is the motto of the French Army’s 4th Special Forces Helicopter Regiment. This motto underlines the key role played by helicopters in special operations. Flexible, versatile, fast, and discreet, helicopters have been used for decades by special forces operators across the world to swiftly deliver and recover commandos regardless of the terrain constraints and the weather – thereby keeping an edge over the adversary.
Helicopters also are vital to the gathering of intelligence and supporting troops deployed on the ground.
As commandos are typically deployed in small numbers with limited firepower, helicopters provide the fire support so dearly needed – as well as vital logistical and medical support.
“In special operations, having dedicated helicopters really gives the edge.”, said General Cazalaa, Deputy Chief of Staff of the French Army Aviation Branch.
Flying above troops on the ground, helicopters can also be used in special operations for command and control duties. “Helicopters are a vital asset for special forces as they need to go far and get there fast,” explained General Cazalaa, Deputy Chief of Staff of the French Army Aviation Branch. “In special operations, having dedicated helicopters really gives the edge.”
The most advanced armed forces across the world have created helicopter units dedicated to special operations. In Germany, the special forces operate H145Ms. In France, the French Army has one regiment dedicated to special operations – operating the Gazelle, Puma, Cougar (recently upgraded), H225M and the Tiger.
France also has ordered a new standard of the NH90 dedicated to special forces. The French army combines the qualities and features of these helicopters to obtain maximum effect.
Meanwhile, the French Air and Space Force has one squadron of helicopters dedicated to special forces, operating the H225M. Building on its knowhow for combat search and rescue operations, this squadron has developed very unique skills for long range operations using the H225M’s air-to-air refuelling capabilities.
Other customers across the world have chosen Airbus Helicopters for their special forces. The company’s comprehensive range of platforms include equipment and features developed specifically for special operations.
The H145M: light and versatile
The 3.8-tonne H145M is a proven light and versatile helicopter perfectly adapted to conducting reconnaissance and support missions, while still being capable of delivering troops and materials at a fast pace. The H145M is the military version of the tried-and-tested, lightweight and powerful twin-engine H145 civil helicopter, which has been deployed across the world in harsh conditions – and has proven its high performance. In mountainous areas and in hot conditions, the H145 has made its name as a rugged and reliable helicopter.
Building on these qualities, the H145M has proven to be a perfect fit for special forces. Its manoeuvrability, small size and low noise signature make the H145M the ideal platform for light reconnaissance and observation missions.
The H145M's unobstructed flat floor can accommodate up to 10 troops, which can embark/disembark through both sides and the rear clamshell doors. Given these features, the H145M can be the ideal platform to infiltrate or recover small teams of commandos. The size of the H145M also is well suited for counter-terrorism missions in urban areas.
Equipped with the Airbus HForce weapons system, the H145M also can provide vital fire support. In 2013, the H145M was chosen by the German Armed Forces (Bundeswehr) as part of the Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) Special Operations Forces (SOF) project. Fifteen H145Ms were delivered between 2015 and 2017. The Bundeswehr’s H145M LUH SOF helicopters are equipped with a fast-roping system to transport special forces, a high-performance camera system for reconnaissance, as well as equipment for fire support during deployment – enabling special forces to use the helicopters in a wide variety of new fields. Furthermore, the helicopter’s ballistic protection and electronic countermeasures system offers a high level of security during deployment.
H225M: the combat proven assault transport helicopter
The 11-tonne H225M has earned its solid reputation with special forces. It was developed from the Super Puma following a request from the French armed forces – which wanted improved capabilities for special operations and combat search and rescue. With more than 104 helicopters in service and more than 143,000 flight hours accumulated to date, the H225M is a recognised combat-proven, versatile and reliable workhorse for military missions worldwide.
Its large cabin and heavy-lift performance enable the rotorcraft to carry up to 28 troops/personnel in cabin seats, or up to 14 troops/personnel on energy-absorbing wall-mounted seats. Two of the key features of the H225M are its extended range and the air-to-air refuelling capability. The helicopter’s outstanding 700 nm range can be extended with inflight refuelling, allowing long range missions (up to 1,300 nm/2,400 km) – making it ideal for special forces insertion missions deep into enemy territory.
The H225M can perform both day and night operations, and is much easier to operate than its predecessors – equipped with a modern and integrated cockpit avionics suite. It also is appreciated for its significant flight handling qualities thanks to the five-blade main rotor. The crew also can rely on the rotorcraft’s state-of-the-art four-axis autopilot.
“The H225M is the epitome of assault helicopters. Its autopilot and self-protection system are unique in the world of special forces.”, said General Cazalaa.
The H225M benefits from Airbus’ philosophy of permanent and continuous improvement. Since entering service with the French armed forces in 2006, the H225M has never stopped evolving and Airbus Helicopters still is working on upgrades to ensure it remains a market reference. The upgrades already introduced include new cockpit avionics, new sensors and systems (electro-optical, inertial navigation, electronic warfare) and crashworthy military cabin seating arrangements.
The French armed forces were the first to operate the H225M in 2006. The Caracal, as it is known in France, is operated both by the Army and the Air Force special forces helicopter regiment and squadron. With its blue, white and red rondel insignias, the Caracal has seen intensive action in Afghanistan and in Africa – where the rotorcraft performed in very tough conditions. It has proven to be a reliable workhorse.
The NH90: now tailored for special forces
The NH90 already is being used across the world as a special operations platform. It will now benefit from new features developed specifically for the special forces.
In October 2020, NHIndustries and its partner companies (Airbus Helicopters, Leonardo and Fokker), signed a firm contract with the NATO Helicopter Management Agency (NAHEMA) for the development of an upgraded version of the NH90 Tactical Troop Helicopter (TTH) for the French Special Forces (TFRA Standard 2). The Standard 2 will build on the features of the NH90, one of the most modern military helicopters in the world.
The new standard will include equipment and systems developed specifically for special forces, with its configuration incorporating a new-generation electro-optical system EuroFLIR™ from Safran, with displays and controls for the pilots, commandos, gunners, and loadmasters.
In addition to the enhanced cockpit, the cabin will also provide extra capabilities of fast roping with protective fire from side-mounted machine guns.
Other improvements serving the French Special Forces and the French Army Aviation include a new-generation digital 3D map, folding boarding steps and additional ceiling-mounted rope anchor points.
The NH90 Standard 2 will complement the capabilities of the French Army’s Cougar and the H225M