France is refurbishing 27 of its existing Cougar transport helicopters, at a cost of about $11.7 million each. The Eurocopter Cougar EC725 is an 11 ton aircraft with a useful load of 5.5 tons, a top speed of 324 kilometers an hour, a range of about 850 kilometers and can stay in the air for about five hours per sortie. Operations in Afghanistan have made it clear that France did not have enough helicopters to support combat operations. Thus the program to upgrade the Cougars. The refurb will extend the life of the Cougars another twenty years. The Cougar entered service about a decade ago, for special operations missions in the army, and search and rescue for the air force.
France is also buying the new NH90 for other army transport tasks, and to replace the older Puma choppers. Costing about $44 million each, the ten ton NH90 can carry 21 troops or twelve casualties on stretchers, plus the crew of two. It first flew in 1995. The manufacturer, NH Industries, is a consortium of French, German, Dutch and Italian firms. The Blackhawk design is twenty years older than the NH90. Although the latest version of the Blackhawk is up to date technically, it is slightly smaller and lighter than the NH90, and can only carry eleven troops. Blackhawk max speed is 285 kilometers an hour and endurance is 2.1 hours. The NH90 has more powerful engines and larger fuel capacity, as well as being a bit larger. The big difference is in cost, with new NH90s, or Cougars, more than twice as expensive as a new Blackhawk.