France Launches Atlantique 2 Upgrade
During a ceremony to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Thales facility at Brest, French defense minister Jean-Yves Le Drian signed the contract that launches a major upgrade for the Marine Nationale’s Dassault Atlantique 2 maritime patrol aircraft. The upgrade equips the Atlantique 2 for service to at least its current planned out-of-service date of 2030, and beyond if its career is extended.
Fifteen aircraft are to be upgraded, with the first scheduled to re-enter service in 2018 and the last in 2023. The program will be conducted by co-contractors Dassault Aviation and Thales, in partnership with DCNS and the Service Industriel de l’Aéronautique (SIAé, France’s military aircraft integrated support service). Commitment so far amounts to €400 million. “Dassault Aviation and Thales are particularly advanced in regard to maritime patrol aircraft,” said Le Drian, “and I am delighted that the launch of this program, which is essential for our forces, can still strengthen their skills in this area.”
Upgrading the Atlantique 2 fleet will entail the development and integration of a new mission suite, including a tactical mission system and sensor systems. The upgrade is intended to equip the aircraft to handle current and emerging threats in all weather conditions. As well as traditional strategic roles, the Atlantique 2 is also being equipped to play its part in asymmetric conflicts. The new systems are intended to enable it to detect and track new stealthy submarines and high-speed attack craft and to undertake overland duties.
Dassault will develop the core mission system, which includes the LOTI (logiciel opérationnel de traitement de l’information) software from DCNS that establishes an overall tactical picture from various sensors, and which manages weapons deployment. Dassault will also oversee the production of a “prototype” conversion, as well as the conversion of a second aircraft. SIAé will become the prime contractor for the remaining 13 conversions.
Meanwhile, Thales will develop a new radar for the Atlantique 2, drawing on technology from the Rafale’s RBE2 AESA sensor. It will also develop STAN, a new digital acoustic processing system.
Likely to be included in the upgrade is a laser designation function. During Operation Serval in Mali earlier this year, five Atlantique 2s were deployed to Base Aérienne 160 Colonel Frédéric Geille at Dakar-Ouakam in Senegal to support land operations. During these missions the aircraft carried 500-pound GBU-12 laser-guided bombs, but were reliant on offboard designation. At least one of the aircraft was equipped with an L-3 Wescam MX-20 multi-sensor turret, but it lacked designation capability.