By Jean-Michel Guhl
As IDEX 17 in Abu Dhabi has closed its doors and February is now behind us, it is interesting to sum up a few impressions of this military and naval show which certainly remains the best in the Middle-East region. And one that is attended by the world industry’s main players, even if some like Iran or Israel are debarred from participating to this biennial event due to the strong public ostracism placed on them by the Arab countries for obvious political reasons.
If all the large Western companies boasted large exhibition stands as usual, although in quite a few case on diminishing surfaces (due to the inflating cost of attendance) , IDEX/NAVDEX 2017 witnessed a clear expansion of UAE, Chinese and Turkish exhibits, with countries like India, Jordan and Sudan stepping in with even more companies.
French and European players being traditional and regular providers of equipment and services to the GCC countries (Bahrein, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the UAE) none of them missed the show, including many smaller companies gathered in the « Village France » around the stand of the French Army whose many members today hail from the Zayed Military Camp where the French land forces in the UAE have been stationed for almost a decade now. Their main asset is the 5e Régiment de Cuirassiers, a mixed regiment equiped with Leclerc MBTs, VBCI APCs and Caesar truck-mounted artillery. Established in Abu Dhabi less than a year ago, the 5e RC replaced the 13e Demi-Brigade de Légion Étrangère now back in metropolitan France.
If physically modest, French military presence in the UAE is considered a valuable asset also by the various GCC governments as it has been for many decades culturally of great benefit in the field of overall training, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, for instance, relying much on the French Ministry of Defence, through its DCI (Défense Conseil International) structure, for the education and formation of their military personnel, from basic instruction to highly specialised training in various field. DCI above all today has a paramount role in the ab intio training of helicopter crews. And to such an extent that 49% of all rotorcraft pilots in the region have gained their wings thanks to DCI and its Dax helicopter school which fields a very large H120 Caliope fleet, now numbering some forty well instrumented helicopters. The success and the high rating of DCI in rotorcraft training is now such that the Malaysian governement has recently teamed with DCI to launch the Helang Flying Academy at Ipoh airport with Airbus H120 and AS355 helicopters. Lately DCI has also been contracted by the government of Kuwait to provide type conversion and advanced training for the emirate’s future H225M Caracal crews, air force and national guard included. Over the coming months, Kuwait is to receive some thirty H225Ms from Airbus Helicopters to replace its old SA330 Pumas.
Besides these many government to government close relationships, the GCC military relies much on French or European hardware provided by such companies as Airbus, DCNS, CMN, MBDA, Lacroix, Thales, Nexter, Safran, just to mention the most important.
Thales stand showcased its Optronics solutions . The worldwide benchmark in night vision and thermal imaging for soldiers and vehicles. As well as F@stnet, The first VHF secure combat radio introducing high bit rate, long range and easy to use. A totally new product, Spy’Ranger is said to be the most advanced mini-drone for reconnaissance and surveillance in the world. Of course, Hawkei and various solutions for a connected vehicle on the battlefield were on show. The Hawkei is an Australian success story for Thales. Highly protected, mobile and integrated this rugged all-terrain vehicle is very representative of the high-end digitization solutions for protected vehicles designed by Thales to give land forces the information superiority they need.
Thales was of course also exhibiting on the NAVDEX side of the expo, directly on the waterfront. The unique immersive demonstration of Thales naval capabilities around the world was shown under the form of the Sea Fire radar. This new generation of multifunction radar capable of performing target detection, identification and tracking as well as fire control and guidance of current and future active radar homing missiles is one of the most advance extat on the market today. It is due to appear on new generation combat vessels, corvettes, frigas and destroyers. Same for the NS200 radar which Thales introduces as a new advanced multimission radar for naval forces and theAquilon. Built around IP architecture, the Aquilon provides all shipboard and external communications and delivers secure connectivity services for frigate and crew, guaranteeing interoperability between all the actors taking part in a naval mission.
MBDA, Europe’s leading missile and missile system company, showcased its new ANL/Sea Venom which development is now almost complete. This air launched anti-ship missile is proposed as a replacement to AS15TT on Panther helicopters and as a Sea Skua replacement on the Royal Navy’s Lynx. Also exhibited were the group’s new solutions for missile coastal batteries that are currently being proposed in the Gulf countries. The MMP was of course highmy advertised. A successor to the well known Milan, this is the market’s only 5th generation land combat missile. It is due to enter service in the French army shortly. Many configurations are being proposed currently to international customers. Also at NAVDEX, the Atlas RC was promoted. A remote controlled turret equipped with two Mistral missiles mounted on a light armoured vehicle, this new cost effective solution provides protection for the crew, automated target tracking and engagement, and can be fully integrated with a C² battlefield management network.
Safran exhibited for the first time ai IDEX its complete range of AASM guidance kits ;, icluding the latest dual-mode AASM using IR and laser sensors with GPS guidance. At IDEX, Safran Electronics & Defense and its Middle Eastern Partner, International Golden Group signed a contract for the supply of Epsilon One inertial ground navigation systems and technical integration services for an initial batch to outfit a first armored brigade of a Middle-East country. The procurement programme encompasses more than 12 different vehicle types, from all-terrain 4WD and troop transport vehicles to infantry fighting vehicles and main battle tanks. Safran’s Epsilon One system is based on an inertial core using advanced resonating structure gyros. A proprietary solution patented by Safran, the system features very high reliability and reduced cost of ownership. Offering high performance in a compact package, it gives combat vehicles autonomous engagement capabilities, including in environments where GPS signals are jammed. The customer’s decision was based on the results of an intensive series of tests under operational conditions, pitting Epsilon One against an international field of competitors. In particular, these tests showed that Epsilon One is perfectly suited to asymmetrical combat in urban zones.
Connected to a battle management system, Epsilon One gives crew members precise information on position and heading, even under the most demanding conditions.
This new success of Epsilon family follows the French army’s choice of Safran’s Epsilon systems for its new generation vehicles of the Scorpion program which confirm the advantages in terms of costs and performances of resonating inertial sensors for new-generation navigation systems.
The European leader in navigation systems, Safran has developed proven expertise in all inertial technologies: mechanical and dynamically-tuned gyros (DTG), ring laser gyro (RLG), fiber optic gyros (FOG), resonating (HRG), and micro-electromechanical (MEMS), with more than 60 years of experience in providing navigation systems for both civil and military customers operating in all environments.
A remarkable French company very active in the UAE is the Alsatian company CEFA was present in the « Village France » with its new SRB (Steel Ribbon Bridge). SRB is a new vision of ribbon bridge used for wet gap crossing ; an essential mission for military engineering corps. In a constantly moving war, all equipment (tanks, armoured infantry vehicles, artillery vehicles, etc) must be able to cross all natural obstacles to reach strategic or tactical targets. EFA’s Amphibious bridging and ferry system is an all-in-one innovative system. CEFA has provided so far the UAE Defence Forces with ten EFAs used to support civil construction in low-lying land reclaimed from the sea in the Abu Dhabi mangrove. The EFA is a unique concept: it was specially designed to meet the need to support forward combat units within high-intensity operational environments. It is a fully amphibious system: ready for use in a few minutes from road to river or sea. It has a very high mobility on land and water ; a universal vehicle (ferry, raft, bridge) with MLC 70 loading capacity for dry gap crossing. The huge vehicle has only a two-man crew, and no extra equipment or vehicle is needed. The EFA Export version is combat-proven and has proven very reliable in Middle Eastern environmental conditions.
During IDEX it was announced that Leonardo has been awarded a contract worth EUR11M by the NATO agency NAHEMA, on behalf of the Italian Ministry of Defence (Direzione degli Armamenti Aeronautici e per l’Aeronavigabilità – DAAA), to provide its New Generation Identification Friend or Foe (NGIFF) interrogator, called the SIT434/5, for the Italian Navy NH90 NFHs (Nato Frigate Helicopters). The SIT434/5 has been integrated on the NH90 NFH by Leonardo, and qualification tests on the Italian Navy NH90 have been completed successfully. The Italian MoD will be first to gain Mode 5 IFF capability for their NH90 helicopters.
IFF systems allows operators to identify friendly forces and distinguish them from potential threats. It does this by transmitting a ‘challenge’ signal to unidentified aircraft and verifying the automatic responses received, effectively a modern-day call-and-response password system. The SIT434/5 interrogator, which was developed under the multinational New-Generation IFF (NGIFF) programme, is the part of an IFF system that sends out the ‘challenge’ signal. In addition to its provision for Italian Forces, Leonardo has sold the interrogator to a number of export customers. NATO members will need to have Mode 5-compatible equipment, which provides better encryption security and other advantages over older systems, installed by 2020 when the old Mode 4 signal is scheduled to be turned off. This means that the SIT434/5 will allow Italy’s NH90 NFH to continue to operate jointly with NATO allies post-2020. Leonardo also provides a range of other systems for Italy’s NH90 TTH and NH90 NFH helicopters, including a complete Communications, Navigation and Identification (CNI) capability, radar and mission systems.
Leonardo is emerging as one of Europe’s leading providers of IFF technology, particularly new ‘Mode 5’ equipment. The company, partnered with Airbus, was chosen as preferred bidder for the UK Ministry of Defence’s programme to upgrade more than 400 operational platforms with Mode 5 equipment. This follows Leonardo’s earlier provision of Mode 5 IFF for the UK Royal Air Force’s Eurofighter Typhoons the Royal Navy’s Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers. The company also provides Mode 5 IFF technology for the Saab Gripen E fighter and recently demonstrated innovative reverse-IFF (air-to-ground) capabilities on Italian Typhoon aircraft. For ground forces, the company was selected in July to provide its SIT-422/5J interrogator for the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force for a radar programme. The NGIFF SIT434/5 interrogator implements modes SIF, Mode C, Mode S, Mode 4 and Mode 5, through an embedded crypto.
Among the first appearances at IDEX, we noticed the South African company Paramount showcasing its Mwari close-air support aircraft for the first time in public. The Mwari offers state-of-the-art smart reconnaissance technology (ISR) and precision strike capabilities at what is said « an affordable cost. » Presently under production in Africa’s largest aircraft factory, the African-based global defence and aerospace company Paramount says that the weaponised version of the Paramount Group’s AHRLAC aircraft — an intelligence gathering and precision strike aircraft carries the same surveillance, targeting, defensive and attack capabilities normally associated with a larger class and vastly more expensive aircraft. It can be considered as a 21st Century kin of the USAF Vietnam-era Cessna O-2.