France’s approach to economic stimulus has had a decidedly military component, with buys ranging from VBCI wheeled armored personnel carriers to a Mistral Class LHD ship. /In April 2009, France added another component of its package: a EUR 220 million contract for 5 more EC725 Caracal helicopters for combat search and rescue, special forces, and medium utility roles, to bring its total fleet to 19.
The EC725 was created when France decided in 1996 that it needed a helicopter designed for Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) missions. At first, they chose the AS532 A2 Super Puma/ Cougar, but after extensive trials, the French Air Force recommended so many changes that it required a new variant. The 11 tonne EC725 SAR variant was born, and made its maiden flight in November 2000. Key characteristics include a fuel load of 3750 liters/ 990 gallons, giving the helicopter a flight time of 5 hours 30 minutes; plus air-to-air refueling capability, a reinforced main gearbox, a new 5-bladed main rotor, a 4-axis autopilot, a homing system for emergency locator beacons, armor plating, and integrated defenses. French Caracal helicopters are fitted with surveillance and targeting turrets, and carry the most modern avionics and navigation equipment. MAG 58 machine guns are also commonly fitted to helicopters, which can also accommodate search lights, winches, and other rescue gear as needed.
Contracts & Key Events
Feb 4/10: Thales announces a contract to supply and integrate 8 complete self-protection systems to equip Eurocopter’s EC725 Caracal helicopters ordered by the French DGA in 2009. Thales will also integrate these systems on the aircraft. The release adds that:
“The Eurocopter EC725 Caracal is the first French forces helicopter to carry a complete selfprotection suite to support the successful outcome of combat search and rescue, maritime search and rescue, tactical troop transport and logistics transport operations. This order will increase the number of EC725 Caracals in service with the French forces to 19 aircraft – all equipped with the same self-protection system.”
Contract terms are not discussed. The system will include:
* Thales’ Sherloc-SF radar-warning receiver and system control, with 360 degree threat detection and location capability.
* Thales MWS-20 Damien, a missile approach warning system that calculates the parameters of each threat.
* Selex Communications’ RALM laser-warning receiver.
* MBDA’s ELIPS-NG chaff/flare dispenser system. It will reportedly replace the current Saphir-M in MBDA’s offerings.
April 30/09: France’s DGA issues its order. These helicopters will be built at Eurocopter’s main facility in Marignane, France. This purchase is expected to secure 10 Eurocopter jobs over the next 3 years, and another 150 jobs among its supplier companies, while improving France’s special forces and search and rescue capabilities. Recent orders from Brazil (50) and Mexico (6) are improving the EC725’s prospects as a recognized export competitor, as well as the program’s contribution to Eurocopter’s workload and bottom line. French DGA [in French] | Eurocopter | Aviation Week.
* Armada International (June 1/02) – All-spectrum awareness