Airbus boosted by Kuwait Caracal order
Kuwait has become the seventh customer for the Airbus Helicopters H225M Caracal, the much-improved military derivative of the AS 532A2 Cougar. Jon Lake reports.
A contract for 30 H225M Caracal multirole utility helicopters, plus an associated support and services package, was signed on August 9 this year.
It happened during a visit to Kuwait by the French Defence Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, who observed that the deal would: “further strengthen the strategic partnership which has bound together our two countries for several decades, while we are currently engaged side-by-side in the fight against Daesh in Iraq and Syria.”
The helicopters come with a new search radar and forward-looking infrared (FLIR), comprehensive self-protection systems, provision for various armament options, more powerful Turbomeca Makila 1A4 turboshaft engines, and greater endurance.
Initially developed to meet a French Air Force requirement for a specialist helicopter for combat search and rescue (CSAR) operations, the helicopter was initially known as the EC725 Cougar II.
Some 14 helicopters were ordered for the Armée de l’Air in two batches, and export orders soon came from Brazil (whose 50 aircraft are being built at the Helibras factory in Itajubá, Minas Gerais province), Mexico (12 aircraft), Malaysia (12 aircraft), Indonesia (six aircraft) and Thailand (four aircraft).
The Kazakhstan Government has also signed a letter of intent with Eurocopter for the purchase of 20 EC725/H225M medium transport helicopters.
In April 2015, Poland announced that the H225M Caracal had been selected to meet a requirement for 50 helicopters, 16 transport versions, 13 for CSAR, eight for antisubmarine warfare (ASW), eight for special operations and five for medevac – all to be assembled in Poland. The type passed state trials in Poland in May 2015, but no contract has been signed, the acquisition process apparently delayed following a change of government, and stalled further after the fatal crash of a civil H225 in Norway on April 29 2016, which led to the grounding of all civil H225s and AS332 L2s due to fears about gearbox safety.
The emergency airworthiness directive that resulted in the grounding of civil H225s did not cover military variants of the helicopter and a number of operators continued to fly their H225Ms.
Airbus Helicopters mandated a “short-term withdrawal from service” of a specific type of second-stage planet gear “to be managed through a retrofit programme”.
Despite this, the Norwegian accident led to a delay in Singapore’s competition to replace its ageing Super Pumas – a competition in which the Caracal was said to be the front runner.
The Kuwaiti order came at a vital time for the Caracal, representing an invaluable vote of confidence in the troubled helicopter and its manufacturer.
Kuwait had originally issued a request for proposal (RFP) for a new medium helicopter in 2013, attracting tenders from AgustaWestland (now Leonardo) with the AW149, Airbus with the H225M, and Sikorsky with the S-70i
Selection (of the H225M Caracal) followed in June 2015, when Kuwait announced that it would acquire 24 of the type, signing a letter of acceptance (LoA) in October 2015, with a further six aircraft under option.
Guillaume Faury, CEO of Airbus Helicopters noted that: “Our relationship with Kuwait dates back more than 40 years with Super Pumas, Pumas and Gazelles having been delivered to the armed forces of the State of Kuwait over the past decades. This H225M Caracal contract opens a new chapter in our cooperation.”
Of the 30 helicopters on contract, 24 will go to the Kuwaiti Air Force, which currently operates a fleet of 11 older SA330 Puma and AS332 Super Puma variants. The remaining six will equip a new aviation unit of the Kuwait National Guard.
According to La Tribune, the H225Ms will be delivered with machine guns (perhaps with the new ‘HForce’ weapons package) and will later be armed with anti-ship missiles.
Delivery timescales and contract values were not revealed, though French media reports valued the deal at €1.07 billion ($1.19bn), with deliveries due to start before the end of 2018.