French avionics and radar firm Thales has a major presence here in Singapore, along with a substantial number of employees. Thales representatives told Aviation International News that, among other major projects, its technical and service personnel are one of the major contractors for supporting the Airbus A380 aircraft that are to be delivered to Singapore Airlines (SIA) beginning next November. The company recently opened the new regional office at Changi North Rise. This new Thales Technology Centre Singapore (TTCS) is now the headquarters of the company’s Asian sector R&D activity and is one of only four corporate R&D centers in the entire corporation–and the only one located outside of western Europe.
This facility will become the focal point not only for technology development and design of new airborne systems, but it will also support the training of flight crews and modernization of aircraft systems for customers in the region. Thales has equipped its new facility with a state-of-the-art A380 simulator that will be used by SIA and other regional airlines that will operate the new European superjet.
Thales has also been responsible for the development of the Top Series In-Flight Entertainment system (IFE) being used by several major airlines. The newest i5000 version of the system, which uses the latest Internet-style Ethernet data transmission technology, weighs 1,700 pounds less than previous generation IFE networks and requires 12 kW less electrical power. According to Airfax.com, the in-flight entertainment and airborne communication Web site, “another way to think about the i5000 system is to add two GB Ethernets (fiber backbone based) and a few boxes to the i4000 system. In doing this you end up with an IFE system on steroids–with the ability to serve enough data streams for 550+ passengers.”
But the company has not lost its focus on the military sector and continues to develop improvements to the Rafale’s on-board systems, as well as developing modernization configurations for older aircraft. As part of the latest production order for the Rafale from the French air force, Thales will complete development of an active electronically scanning array (AESA) version of the Rafale’s current passive array radar, which has been designated the RBE2-AA. These aircraft will also receive a new set of advanced optronics. This “will replace the current system, which has a TV channel and an eight-by-twelve microns infrared (IR) channel with a three-by-five microns IR channel, with the pilot having the option of selecting either the IR or TV modes. “This makes a great deal of difference in the resolution and accuracy of the IR image, giving the pilot much better imagery at night–and the three-by-five system is so much more effective that it can be used even during the daylight in place of TV channel,” explained a Thales spokesperson.
Upgrading of legacy platforms and providing new-generation interactive training packages for military pilots remains another prime Thales business activity, and the company has been actively discussing sales of upgrade packages to operators of Russian-made Mikoyan and Sukhoi fighters in the region. Thales previously integrated some components on the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) Su-30MKI and participated in developing the aircraft’s avionics suite. It remains one of the only major Western avionics firms to have working relationships with major Russian aircraft and radar design bureaus and this area of business is one in which it has a considerable competitive advantage.
This connection with the Russians and experience in upgrading their Cold War platforms may become a major factor in the IAF’s soon-to-be-issued tender for 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (M-MRCA). This tender puts Thales in a particularly advantageous situation. If the Indians decide to consider the Rafale for this tender, Thales can offer the RBE2-AA AESA radar (an AESA is predicted to be part of the official requirements in the M-MRCA tender), and at the same time propose modernization packages to reconfigure the IAF’s current fleets of Su-30MKI and MiG-29 fighters with Thales avionics.
The attractiveness of this option to the Indians is that an inventory of Thales-equipped combat aircraft all could create near-commonality between the Rafale and the IAF’s Russian fighters–an objective the Indians have been desirous of for some time. Although the result may not be known for some years, a win in India could make the French firm one of the largest–if not the largest–avionics suppliers in Asia.