By David Oliver
At Euronaval 2016, French companies made a series of important announcements about future naval programmes and new products.
Herve Guillou, chairman and CEO of the leading French shipbuilder, DCNS, summarised the companies recent successes and future plans. He said that 2016 has been marked by two important events.
In April Australia selected DCNS for the $50 billion contract to design and sustain a new fleet of 12 nuclear submarines to be built in Adelaide and last month the delivery and commissioning of the two Mistral-class amphibious assault ships, originally built for Russia, to Egypt. Working under contract to DCNS, the DCI Group has trained the first crew for the FREMM multi-mission frigate and the first two crews for the amphibious assault ships.
The Australian Barracuda Shortfin submarine will be a conventional diesel-electric powered variant of the new nuclear attack submarine being built by DCNS for the French Navy.
Guillou said that DCNS continues to be involved in collaboration projects around the world and South America in particular. He had visited Brazil only two weeks ago and was impressed at the progress made with its new submarine base shipyard at Sepetiba Bay where three DCNS designed Scorpene CM-2000 submarines are under construction.
On the downside was the leaking of huge amounts of confidential documents relating to the manufacture of DCNS-designed Scorpene submarines being built in India. Herve Guillou said that these illegally published documents contained no classified information that could harm or delay production in India, and that French authorities were now conducting an investigation.
As for the future, the French ministry of defence unveiled the 4,000 tonne Frégate de Taille Intermédiaire (FTI) medium-size frigate programme for the French Navy. Working alongside DCNS, Thales has been selected to provide a number of latest-generation systems for the future frigates.
These include the compact version of CAPTAS-4 towed-array sonar, the Sea Fire multi-function radar, the Aquilon integrated naval communications system, and an ESM system for electronic warfare.
According to Guillou, digital will be the core of the next generation of warships. They will have digital combat systems and digital onboard maintenance systems to monitor the health and usage of every system on the ship.
Communications will also be revolutionised by 4, 5 and even 6G networks and will bring together operations involving UAVs, USVs and AUVs.
Over the last ten years, DCNS has successfully overseen the French armaments procurement agency (DGA) and French Navy’s main unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) study and trial programs for its Système de Drones Aériens de la Marine (SDAM) programme.
Amongst the solutions that been tested at sea is the Schiebel S-100 Camcopter that was on display at Euronaval 2016. The rotary-wing UAV which can carry a 50 kg payload over a 200 km mission radius can operate from small single-spot vessels. This explains the popularity of the system among naval customers such as the French Navy, which deployed the Camcopter S-100 during its EU NAVFOR Anti-Piracy Operation in the Arabian Sea, or the Italian Navy, for whose Mare Nostrum Operation in the Mediterranean the S-100 was essential.
For the third year, a Schiebel S-100 continues to support the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS), a global search-and-rescue charity organisation dedicated to preventing loss of life to refugees and migrants in distress at sea.
At Euronaval 2016, DCNS and Airbus Helicopters announced that they are joining forces to design the future tactical component of the SDAM
programme. A versatile and affordable platform, the VSR700 has been developed by Airbus Helicopters. Harnessing autonomous flight technologies that have been tested by Airbus Helicopters through a range of demonstration programmes, the VSR700 is derived from a light civil helicopter, the Guimbal Cabri G2, which has proven its reliability and low operating costs in service. The VSR700 is a development of the Orca-1200 that was launched in 2003.
At Euronaval 2016, Thales introduced a new Autonomous Underwater & Surface System (AUSS) concept, the world’s first hybrid unmanned system capable of operating both above and below the surface. AUSS is designed for a broad range of civil and military roles, including intelligence gathering, maritime counter-terrorism, mine countermeasures and offshore platforms surveillance.
Capitalising on Thales experience with Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) deployed on mine countermeasures missions, the company has developed several high-tech innovations for the new AUSS system.
With these innovations, the system is capable of conducting an unprecedented range of civil and military missions that were previously impossible either very complex to perform with existing AUVs.
These missions include surveillance and naval intelligence gathering on the surface, undersea warfare and maritime counter-terrorism. Civil missions include surveillance of underwater infrastructure such as offshore oil and gas installations. It can be guided by line-of-sight or by data link.
Designed for total manoeuvrability, AUSS can control its depth whilst moving in any direction and even when it is stationery. It is also exceptionally agile. It can cruise at 17 knots and if it encounters threats or obstacles can perform a 180° turn in less than 10 metres.
With this 360° agility, the vehicle can also stabilise a sensor mast deployed up to three metres above the surface, which is not possible with any other underwater vehicle of comparable size.
To meet the need for permanent surveillance, the Thales-designed AUSS offers superior endurance, making it possible to conduct missions lasting several weeks and spanning hundreds of kilometres. Its range of operations will be determined by its payload weight. It can also sleep on the seabed for up to two weeks.
AUSS employs Thales latest-generation of imagery intelligence (IMINT), electronic intelligence (ELINT), communications intelligence (COMINT) sensors to ensure that the information captured during its missions is of the highest quality and relevance.
With its 5.5 m long 21″ (53 cm) diameter hull, the system is designed to be launched and recovered from any type of naval vessel including submarines and from the shore. The system can be configured for different missions to optimise resource utilisation for customers.
AUSS is based on a systems approach that has been extensively proven by Thales over a number of years for ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance) and undersea warfare operations.
The new concept is the result of a joint effort, with a total of 19 SMEs based in Brittany, Anjou and Paris taking part in the project alongside Thales site at Brest for the last three years.
Sea trials have already been conducted on five occasions in 2016, confirming the system’s ability to perform a broad range of missions and deploy the latest generation of sensors. It has been demonstrated to the French Navy amongst others.
The Franco-British underwater mine countermeasure (MMCM) programme, supervised by OCCAR on behalf of French Defence Procurement Agency (DGA) and UK Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S) through the joint project management of Thales/BAE, has begun its manufacturing phase.
ECA Group has already taken part in the initial design phase of the system and will supply six autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV) derived from the A27-M as well as other peripheral equipment under a contract worth €15 million.
The A27 is the largest AUV in the range offered by ECA Group. Its A27-M version, equipped with a multi-aspect synthetic aperture sonar (SAM) supplied by Thales and additional sensors also capable of detecting contacts in the water column, is specifically designed for detection, classification and localisation operations in underwater mine-hunting missions. Equipped with a specific means of communication, the A27-M can be deployed individually or in “Pack” mode.
ECA Group will also supply a launch and recovery system (LARS) used to deploy and recover these AUVs in challenging sea conditions. Equipped with a unique, patented system aiming at detecting and grabbing a recovery cable, the A27 is able to autonomously come back in the LARS deployed by the mothership, significantly limiting human intervention and preventing crew members from being exposed to danger.
Ixblue showcased its Marins family of state-of-the-art naval inertial navigation systems, designed to meet the demands of the navy for the highest performance inertial navigation systems (INS). The Marin Series enables stealth autonomous navigation for submarines, providing very accurate heading, roll, pitch, speed and position. These products also uniquely address the need for advanced naval surface vessels, operating under severe global navigation satellite system (GNSS)-denied environment.
The systems use heading reference systems (AHRS) and inertial navigation systems (INS) made possible by the mastery of fiber-optic gyroscope (FOG) technology enabling them to be used for the most demanding hydrographical and subsea survey, construction and vessel positioning applications to provide accurate motion sensing and compensation.
iXblue delivers the full spectrum of underwater acoustic solutions, from the very low to the very-high-frequency range, in order to meet all the challenges of underwater operations. Even in very shallow water environments iXblue underwater acoustic positioning system provides robust relative and geolocated positioning accuracy. The effectiveness and safety of AUVs, mine-hunters and towed sonars rely on iXblue’s systems accurate positioning data. Its high-performance navigation systems have been chosen by the German, Singapore and Swedish navies and UK Royal Navy.