French Technology Stimulates Innovation, Stiff Rivalry

September 2000
By Clarence A. Robinson, Jr.

Continental industry mobilizes, partners, collaborates, serves notice as growing force with which to reckon.

Buttressed by a wave of mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures, France’s defense and aerospace industries are becoming increasingly competitive in cutting-edge technologies. This especially is the case in the development of electronics, command, control, communications and sensor systems.

Unconditional approval by European Commission, United Kingdom and U.S. regulatory authorities for France’s Thomson-CSF purchase of the British company Racal Electronics Plc is an example of the changes sweeping through European industry. This move continues implementation of a “multidomestic” corporate strategy by Thomson-CSF and creates a powerful new force in defense and commercial electronics.

Thomson-CSF’s multidomestic strategy means that the corporation becomes a local player in numerous national markets in Europe and elsewhere, providing technical expertise and industrial capacity. Thomson-CSF now operates with an industrial base in 28 nations and a work force of 64,500 employees, 50 percent of whom are outside France. Combined annual revenues are more than 8 billion euros ($7.3 billion).

An earlier merger by Thomson-CSF with Alcatel’s defense electronics division and Dassault Electronique opened markets throughout Europe. The acquisition of Racal reinforces Thomson-CSF’s worldwide marketing position and provides a presence in the United Kingdom, the second largest European market. France is the largest. Racal’s headquarters will remain in Bracknell, Berkshire, England.

Almost simultaneously, the emerging European Aeronautic, Defense and Space company, or EADS, is being formed by large corporations in France, Germany and Spain. This move marks what European officials describe as “a radical change.” France’s Aerospatiale Matra, Germany’s DaimlerChrysler Aerospace (DASA) and Spain’s Construcciones Aeronauticas S.A. (CASA) are merging to form what French officials call “the third largest aerospace company in the world and the largest in Europe.” This ranking is predicated on 92,000 employees and sales of 22.5 billion euros ($20.5 billion).

EADS will become the world’s second largest commercial aircraft manufacturer—80 percent of the Airbus passenger jet; first in helicopters, with 100 percent of the Eurocopter; and first in commercial space launch vehicles, with the Ariane boosters. The new business venture also will be among the world leaders in satellite production, with Astrium (see page 27); in military aircraft, with the A400M military transport, Eurofighter, Mirage and Rafale; and in defense missile systems. EADS officials contend that this merger will provide a natural hub for further restructuring of the aerospace and defense industries around the world.

It is, however, the acquisition of Racal by Thomson-CSF that brings a highly competitive edge to military communications development programs. The Racal acquisition only adds to the technology advances by Thomson-CSF in the areas of battlefield digitization, wideband, multimode and software programmable radios.

Before the mid-June acquisition of Racal, Thomson-CSF already owned approximately 73 percent of the British company’s equity. Buy ing the remainder of the equity brings the number of Thomson-CSF employees to 15,000 in the United Kingdom, doubling the group’s size and boosting annual revenues there to 2 billion euros ($1.8 billion).

The local area system, or LAS, supplied by Thomson-CSF and Racal Radio as part of the British Bowman contract, provides the heart of the British Army’s future communications network. This network simultaneously transmits voice, data, images and video to and from fighting vehicles and establishes high-speed links between command posts. The £250 million ($379 million) Bowman LAS contract is part of a Thomson-CSF/Racal joint venture, with Thomson-CSF responsible for the entire technical system.

The LAS will eventually equip most of the vehicles used by the British Army, ensuring multimedia both inside vehicles and between different vehicles. This approach provides multivehicle command posts with a powerful multimedia switching architecture capable of handling internal and external traffic. The tactical LAS is built around Thompson’s SmartNet or SOTASM switches that incorporate the latest generation asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) and commercially available technologies.

Thomson-CSF’s Comsys division’s Estelle Griton-Saulnier believes that the company’s development of new battlespace software programmable radios exemplifies the changes taking place in Europe. She is the strategy and marketing director, radio telecommunications unit. “Not only does software radio development involve Racal in the United Kingdom, it also involves DASA in Germany, which further opens markets for the radios,” she offers.

Under the Euroradio program, the ministries of defense in both France and Germany selected Thomson-CSF and DASA to demonstrate the future software radio architecture. The partners are seeking to validate advanced technology for a multiband multimode radio, called MMR, that offers multiple channels and is software programmable.

The open software system for the MMR program is being progressively inserted into the Comsys division’s triservice radios, Griton-Saulnier points out. She claims this approach enables reuse of customers’ current software as well as growth into new services. Advanced digital technology, signal processing algorithms for modems, vocoders and antijamming support the effort.

Griton-Saulnier asserts that this French/German MMR program provides a fully programmable system to support a high level of battlefield digitization. She continues that this is the decade of triservice military communications equipment, adding that digital technologies are redrawing the military radio landscape. This MMR concept is based on continuous technology upgrades by adding new services and interoperability to secure long-term investment.

The software radio approach, Griton-Saulnier maintains, hinges on three factors: immediate availability of a range of triservice programmable wideband radios, expertise in key technologies necessary to drive even greater interoperability and networking, and the development of standards through various programs. Among these programs are the Euroradio with DASA for France and Germany, the U.S. joint tactical radio system (JTRS) and, through Racal, the programmable digital radio (PDR) for the United Kingdom. The U.S. JTRS program office selected Racal—now part of Thomson-CSF—to validate the architecture for handheld equipment.

The software provides the ability to share waveforms between radios, even in different physical domains. Thomson-CSF has an extensive library of waveforms, Griton-Saulnier observes. Comsys has already fielded a majority of waveforms for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), non-NATO applications and civil programs with the recent development and fielding of more than a dozen radio systems.

More than 100 countries use tactical radio systems designed by Thomson-CSF, which has delivered more than 300,000 radios. This includes 36,000 high frequency radios in 70 nations. With revenues of 1.2 billion euros ($1.1 billion) and 7,100 employees in 14 nations, Comsys intends to be one of the world’s major players in battlespace digitization, including backbone and tactical networks, land-based, naval, airborne and satellite communications systems.

Programs from Comsys include Rita 2000 for the French and Belgian armies, mobile subscriber equipment (MSE) for the U.S. Army, RBA for Spain, TS9000 for Sweden, Zodiac for the Netherlands, TADKOM network for Norway, and the Bowman-LAS multimedia network for the United Kingdom. Strategic and backbone networks for France are Socrate, Saphir and Reseda. Norway operates the NDDN, and BIGSTAF links German multimedia command post communications. A military satellite communications network is also used in the United Kingdom.

Thomson-CSF unveiled its complete range of digital access networks in mid-June at Eurosatory 2000 at Le Bourget Airport north of Paris. Network access is based on the local area system concept, which will play a central role in three major military communications programs—Bowman for the United Kingdom, Rita 2000 for France and BIGSTAF for Germany. These radio systems use international standards and feature a range of electronic countermeasures resistance, secure and survivable communications. Griton-Saulnier notes that these systems provide multimedia services needed by tactical command centers—simultaneously transmitting voice, data, images and video to fighting vehicles.

She explains that wideband radio technology has been developed through Thomson-CSF, SEL Defense Systems, a German subsidiary, and Racal programs. Examples include an extremely small 1- to 600-megahertz wideband amplifier or a lightweight 30- to 512-megahertz handheld multimode radio from Racal known as MBITR. Griton-Saulnier emphasizes the optimum spectrum management of Comsys products. “These radios cover the full spectrum from 0.1 megahertz to 40 gigahertz, from very low frequency for submarine communications to microwave for battlefield identification.”

Thomson-CSF’s field-proven radios operate in adaptable, dynamically versatile frequency hopping modes. This includes very low rate vocoders and network packetization that allows spectrum use with maximum efficiency. “The use of software radios allows all of the waveforms necessary and enables specific changes to meet user requirements,” Griton-Saulnier says. “Interoperability includes the waveforms from Racal, coupled to Thomson-CSF’s waveform catalog. Users now have the capability to implement whatever they want—Internet protocol, voice and data, along with interoperability and bandwidth capacity.

“Through its subsidiaries, Thomson-CSF can now offer a large wideband, multimode communications capability with the naval Series 6000 radios, which support high frequency (HF), very high frequency (VHF) and ultrahigh frequency (UHF). The Series 6000 involves a joint venture with Redifon-MEL, a subsidiary in the United Kingdom, and Racal Thomson Networks,” Griton-Saulnier relates. The 6000 series is multichannel with transparent user operations and is ready for ATM/IP networking.

Another radio program is the airborne Starblazer system, developed in cooperation with Raytheon, a U.S. company. “This is a wideband HF and VHF downlink system in operation today with several forces. Starblazer covers the full radio spectrum for communications in different airborne and surface formats,” Griton-Saulnier states.

The British Ministry of Defence selected Racal teamed with Raytheon to define and develop a waveform description language that allows reuse of software digital radios for various waveforms. Now, with Racal as part of Thomson-CSF, Comsys is positioning itself to deliver a software radio that provides interoperability with joint air, naval and land forces. Involvement with Raytheon in this and in the JTRS programs, Griton-Saulnier insists, also will aid coalition force operations. “The software radio technology will be available as soon as the standard is established.” She cites probable production for the radio by 2004.

“Thomson-CSF is positioning itself to deliver the software radio when the standard is available for about the same cost as today’s radios. The market potential is approximately 1 million radios over a 10-year period. Several armed forces are working together to field this ‘evolution’ in radios. In part, this is driven by the need for interoperability between French and German forces,” Griton-Saulnier reports.

The company is investing heavily in research and development for the software radio, developing generic wideband, synthesizer and processor technologies based on software programming. To exploit the synergy involved in the Alcatel merger, Griton-Saulnier stresses, Comsys is relying on Alcatel’s commercial technology applications wherever possible. She maintains that the company, through simultaneous development programs involving Racal, offers a triservice, wideband, programmable radio capable of continuous upgrades by simply changing the processor.

As Aerospatiale Matra folds into EADS, competition will stiffen for other French and European companies. Before the end of the year, the French government is expected to contract with this company for production of 600 units of SIR, a French acronym for a regimental information system. SIR is a flexible system split into layers. A lower layer implements a common core software, and the external layer implements specific functions, according to Patrice Commin, business development director, defense activities, Aerospatiale Matra.

SIR will be used in two configurations—mounted in a shelter on trucks and in armored command center vehicles. The technology, which has a common core, is designed to provide tactical situation command and control displays for all branches of the French army—armor, infantry and aviation. Designed for use with the French Leclerc tank, the Franco-German Tiger attack helicopter and the NH-90 military helicopter, SIR is the product of a cooperative program with France, Germany, the Netherlands and Italy.

The common core provides for preparation and maneuver control of tactical units. SIR, already demonstrated in field trials near Munich, Germany, will evaluate the tactical situation, transmit orders and reports, keep track of friendly and enemy forces, and provide rapid updates. This voice and data system also enables coordination of weapons systems within the context of combined combat. SIR’s design also allows interoperability with the French air force and navy, and with U.S., British and German command and control systems, Commin emphasizes.

Communications with SIR are based mainly on the use of French VHF PR4G radio networks. This system also interfaces with Rita, satellite links and fixed military and civilian networks. SIR relies on modular and open architectures, standard hardware and software, incremental implementation and provisions for threat changes and technology advances.

Common core tools within SIR provide message preparation and handling, cartography, unit localization, document preparation and transmission, training and system administration. This secure, frequency hopping system also provides for mission planning, with input from allies. Specific functions encompass coordination and fire control, terrain management, and intelligence handling. SIR speeds up transmission and battlefield intelligence sensor management by automatic data transmission and command and control.

Aerospatiale Matra has invested heavily in SIR, establishing a laboratory for use in converting commercial technology to military applications. Much of the research involves software development, including use of commercial lines of code, with emphasis on the interface between the engineer and the user. Commin contends that SIR is designed so that common parts will remain in use, even though central processing units are changed every 18 months.

In addition to SIR, Aerospatiale Matra is developing new command, control, communications, computer, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems. The company also is participating in the A400M military transport aircraft developed by Airbus Military Company and a variety of missile and unmanned aerial vehicle programs. Aerospatiale Matra officials believe that the company’s research and development investments will pay huge dividends as it consolidates its expertise with DASA and CASA for major European defense programs.


Large Spacecraft Contract Fortifies European Group

Mobile data communications satellites for links to laptop and palm computers in many areas of the world will be launched by a new consortium formed by France, Germany and the United Kingdom. Under an approximately $700 million contract, this group, which continues Europe’s space sector consolidation, is scheduled to provide two geosynchronous data satellites for a 2003 launch, with a third as a backup.

Known as Astrium, the new space venture involves France’s Aerospatiale Matra, Germany’s DaimlerChrysler Aerospace (DASA) and Britain’s BAE Systems. The contract with Astrium calls for delivery of three Inmarsat-4 spacecraft. The two operational satellites will be placed in geostationary orbit at 54 degrees west longitude and at 64 degrees east longitude to provide Internet links at typical data rates of 432 kilobits per second.

A compact, lightweight antenna will be used to connect a user’s existing notebook computer, according to Aerospatiale Matra officials. Each of the satellites will have 200 spot beams, with beam patterns tailored to cover the Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia. The Inmarsat-4s also will offer services for mobile communications similar to those provided by Inmarsat-3 satellites but will have expanded capacity.

With a mass of 5 metric tons and payload power of 9 kilowatts, Inmarsat-4s are larger and more powerful than other geostationary mobile communications satellites. The Inmarsat-4 spacecraft is based on the design of the Eurostar 3000, a version of the Eurostar satellite series.

The Astrium group is a follow-on to Matra Marconi Space, formed in 1990, from the core business of Matra Espace and British Aerospace Space Systems. With the addition of Germany’s DASA, the new enterprise is involved in many areas of space activities. Among them are earth resources, civil and military observation, communications, ground-based reception terminals, launch vehicles and orbital infrastructures.

Germany provides four locations at Bremen, Friedrichshafen, Lampoldhausen and Ottobrunn. France has two sites at Vélizy and Toulouse, with 2,200 employees. Britain’s two locations are at Stevenage and Portsmouth. This consolidation makes Astrium highly competitive with U.S. firms, Aerospatiale Matra officials claim.

In addition to Inmarsat, commercial customers include Intelsat, Eutelsat, SES, Singapore Telecom, Chughwa Telecom/Taiwan, Worldspace and Nilesat. In the military sector, the group is involved with Skynet 4/NATO IV, Telecom 2, Hispasat 1A and 1B satellite communications systems, and in development of Skynet 5 and Syracuse III.

Astrium, which began operations in late May, has 7,700 employees and revenues of 2.2 billion pounds ($3.3 billion). The $700 million Inmarsat contract is the largest awarded since the formation of Matra Marconi Space, Aerospatiale Matra officials declare. The group remains heavily involved with France’s Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES) on the Spot systems. Spot 5, which will have a resolution of 2.5 meters, is under development, and the Pleiades constellation that includes radar data and optical images will follow.


Tiny Cellular Phones Beget New Airborne Sensor Clan

Leveraging its strength in mobile telecommunications and automotive electronics, a large French conglomerate is funding advances in military research and development. The defense activity segment of this company specializes in the development and production of sensors, guidance and navigation, avionics, flight control systems and unmanned aerial vehicles.

Officials at this Paris-based company believe that battlefield information distribution is at the center of its skills. This approach implies near-real-time distribution of relevant information as a prerequisite to decision making at various levels of command. Groupe SAGEM’s military and security division implements technologies for observation and target acquisition, data processing, digital cartography, military telecommunications and message handling.

As unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) increasingly are used in military operations, SAGEM is developing a strong position with the implementation of new multiple payload and multiple mission concepts. The company provides tactical UAVs that operate at various ranges—Crecerelle for France, Sperwer for the Netherlands, and Denmark and UGGLAN for Sweden and the TMD3, a hand-launched, short-range system. SAGEM also provides the long-endurance Horus, based on the U.S. Predator design from General Atomics Aeronautical Systems.

With almost half of Groupe SAGEM’s net sales of 3.4 billion euros ($3.1 billion) in international activities, its communications and automotive business units produce 1.9 billion euros ($1.7 billion) and 739 million euros ($671 million), respectively. These are rapid growth areas for the company, which has 15,600 employees. The defense and security division accounts for 756 million euros ($687 million).

Acquisition in 1999 of SFIM places SAGEM in a competitive position among other European defense electronics firms. This is especially the case in guidance systems, inertial navigation and electro-optics. But the company’s defense segment plays a growing role in Europe’s UAV and observation systems.

SAGEM recently unveiled its day or night TMD3 UAV, which is carried in a backpack for quick assembly—within 5 minutes—in forward battlefield areas. The TMD3’s range is approximately 10 kilometers (6 miles), with an endurance of more than an hour. Assembled, the sensor platform’s dimensions are 3.4 x 2.1 x 0.3 meters. Empty, the UAV weighs 3 kilograms (6.6 pounds) and 9 kilograms (19.8 pounds) when equipped with a mission payload. The company claims this system can help provide critical situational awareness in close proximity to an enemy.

Powered by a brushless motor, the TMD3’s handheld launch preserves stealthy takeoff and flight operations. The tiny UAV carries sensors that provide low-level acoustic and infrared signatures. SAGEM officials claim that no aeronautical pilot skills are required and that the UAV uses a simple highly automated operating system. A single waypoint is sufficient for TMD3’s takeoff, but additional waypoints can be entered during flight. The UAV is under the control of an automatic pilot but can be manually controlled using commands such as right, left, up or down.

A small, ruggedized, handheld, touchscreen “investigation” groundstation receives tactical information from the TMD3 to enhance digital map displays. Reconnaissance information from the UAV’s sensors is transmitted to the investigation station in real time via a digital datalink for display.

The Sperwer UAV’s endurance is 6 hours, and the mission range is 200 kilometers (125 miles) carrying a 45-kilogram (99-pound) payload. Sensor payloads include electro-optic and infrared line-of-sight cameras, synthetic aperture radar, and electronic intelligence and jamming systems, all of which can change orientation. Sperwer operates from any unprepared site; no runway or landing strip is necessary.

Mounted in a rotating chin turret beneath Sperwer’s nose, the payload features a daylight and infrared sensor incorporating a high-performance 8- to 12-micron forward looking infrared (FLIR) device with a 288 x 4 focal plane array detector and a charge-coupled device (CCD) high-resolution camera. SAGEM officials say target detection range is 12 kilometers. The system provides automatic tracking of ground objects, with target positioning accuracy sufficient for a first-round hit, even at maximum range.

Other Sperwer payloads are an imaging synthetic aperture radar (SAR), a communications jammer, and equipment for electronic support measures/electronic intelligence and atmospheric data gathering. The UAV’s flight domain is from 1,000 to 17,000 feet, with a digital datalink range of 200 kilometers. Operating with a 70-horsepower piston engine, this stealthy platform uses technology to reduce radar and infrared signatures. The UAV is connected to a corps-level data gathering center to provide updates on the tactical situation.

A ground control station (GCS) for flight control and mission exploitation is generally mounted in a truck; however, an alternate ground segment offers a miniground control station and a manportable mobile receiving unit. A truck carries a pneumatic catapult launcher and handles three UAVs. The air vehicle also can be handed off to a distant GCS, depending on the payload, increasing mission range up to 400 kilometers (250 miles). Target coordinates are directly transferred to an artillery network data terminal integrated in the GCS for target designation and real-time fire adjustment.

The 3- to 5-hour endurance tactical Crecerelle reconnaissance UAV is used by the French army for real-time surveillance and target acquisition. The flight vehicle uses electro-optic, FLIR and a line scanner with daylight and infrared capability, or a SAR payload. The line scanner infrared sensor provides a 120-degree field of view and an 8- to 12-micron spectrum. The visible CCD provides 4,096 pixels per line and a 30- to 90-degree field of view. The system includes a panoramic infrared camera and can detect targets from 1 to 1.6 meters in size from altitudes of 1,000 to 5,000 feet. Vehicle detection slant range is 6.2 kilometers (3.9 miles).

The mission range is from 60 to 90 kilometers (37 to 56 miles), depending on payload and altitude. The flight domain is up to 13,000 feet, and the speed is between 130 to 240 kilometers an hour (70 to 130 knots). The UAV uses a global positioning system for autonomous navigation; however, digital guidance and autopilot control the vehicle within its flight domain. Crecerelle can fly autonomously with the uplink cut off for covert operations and is recovered by parachute.

Combining two core technologies with a data processing capability enables SAGEM to provide systems for forces that include inertial and hybrid navigation systems for land, naval and aerospace applications; missile system inertial guidance; thermal imagers and infrared search and track systems; airborne surveillance control systems for artillery, armored vehicles and helicopters; battlefield information systems and encryption and secure communications systems. The company’s technology is used in integrated avionics for hundreds of fighter aircraft worldwide, including missile warning systems for first-line fighters such as the French Mirage 2000.