France orders eight more Caracals alongside second VSR700 prototype

France has ordered a further eight Airbus Helicopters H225M Caracals for the Armée de l’Air et de l’Espace (AAE, French Air and Space Force) along with a second prototype of the maritime VSR700 vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

H225M Caracal [French Air and Space Force]
One of the French Air and Space Force's current H225M Caracal helicopters, eight more of which have now been ordered. French Air and Space Force

France’s Minister of the Armed Forces, Florence Parly, signed contracts for the two acquisitions on April 15 during a visit to the Airbus Helicopters site at Marseille-Marignane. The deal for the eight H225Ms, which is valued at around €300 million, was brought forward as part of the government plan announced on June 9, 2020, to support the French aviation industry, which has suffered considerably as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Deliveries will take place in 2024 and 2025, initiating replacement of the elderly AAE SA330 Puma fleet, which has an average age of 43 years. The AAE already has ten Caracals in service. Although nominally based at Cazeux in southwest France, the new H225Ms will be deployed throughout the country and also support the French armed forces’ overseas operations.

VSR700 [Airbus/Thierry Rostang]
As part of this latest deal, Airbus will deliver a second VSR700 prototype to the French military. The initial testbed (pictured) completed its first autonomous flight in July 2020. Airbus/Thierry Rostang

The VSR700 deal supports the continuation of the Système de Drone Aérien pour la Marine (SDAM – Marine Aerial UAV System) development programme for the French Navy. The VSR700, based on the Hélicoptères Guimbal Cabri G2 helicopter, is planned to eventually provide the French Navy with an efficient, high-performance shipborne tactical unmanned aerial system that will be able to land autonomously on combat vessels with small flight decks.

A sea test campaign on a multi-mission frigate to validate the SDAM’s automatic take-off and landing capacity is planned for 2022. This early order for a second demonstrator will enable acceleration of the flight test programme.