Regiment of the Night – 3rd Combat Helicopter Regiment
After the dissolution of 4RHC in 2010, the French Land Forces Command is left with three combat helicopter regiments, comprising 1RHC at Phalsbourg-Bourscheid, 3 RHC at Étain-Rouvres and 5RHC at Pau-Pyrénées.
3RHC comprises five flight squadrons, including three attack and reconnaissance helicopter squadrons equipped with SA342 Gazelles and two tactical helicopter squadrons equipped with the SA330 Puma. Each squadron has between eight and ten helicopters at its disposal. The regiment’s location in a thinly populated area with varied landscapes makes it ideal for all types of flying training.
Although the Gazelle has been replaced by the Eurocopter Tiger in the attack role in frontline service, it still packs a punch and it will remain in service for many more years. The French Army currently still operates some 80 Gazelles, about two-thirds of which are SA342M variants equipped with the Viviane thermal imagery system. Armed with HOT missiles, it allows the Gazelle to observe targets and carry out attacks in all weather conditions. The Viviane system is mounted between the cockpit and the rotor blades. The weight of the Viviane system required the airframe to be strengthened and the rotor blades to be replaced with those of the Eurocopter Squirrel.
Recent operations carried out by 3RHC include Operation Barkhane in Chad, Harmattan in Libya, Pamir in Afghanistan, Sangrias in the Central African Republic and Serval in Mali. In August 2016 two Gazelles also deployed to Ivory Coast.
By around 2021 3RHC will become the final French Army regiment to receive the NH90. The Pumas will then be retired. The Gazelle will surprisingly remain in service until around 2030 when the to be selected Joint Light Helicopter will replace it. In order to replace the Dauphin, Fennec, Gazelle and Puma, between 160 and 180 helicopters will be purchased by the French Armed Forces, 80 of which will replace the Army’s Gazelles. The Airbus Helicopters H160 is one of the types that could meet the requirements.