France is refurbishing four more of its Cougar transport helicopters, to keep them in service for another decade or more. 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. Introduced in the 1970s, the Cougar is about ten percent heavier than the 1980s UH-60 Blackhawk, and has even more internal space (Cougar can carry 20 passengers versus 14 in the Blackhawk). Cougars have been sent to Afghanistan, where the age and heavy maintenance demands kept them on the ground more than newer models. Cougars would fly 2-3 times a week, while UH-60s would be in the air at least once a day.
Refurbished Cougars will be able to fly more often, and the upgrade is a lot cheaper (about $12 million each). 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. A refurbished Cougar costs less than a third of a new NH90, and is nearly as capable in most situations.