France’s DGA defense procurement agency has awarded Thales a €119 million ($162 million) contract to develop a new laser designation pod for French air force Dassault Rafale and Mirage 2000D fighters, Thales announced in January. The development contract follows a risk reduction phase the government awarded Thales (Booth F23) in late 2012.
The New-Generation Laser Designation Pod, known by its French acronym PDL-NG (Pod de Désignation Laser de Nouvelle Génération), equipped with a television megapixel camera and infrared megapixel sensor, will provide the fighters with new day/night imaging and target engagement capabilities. “Image quality and laser designation performances will allow the detection, the identification, the designation and the engagement of small moving targets at long range,” said Thales. The development contract award “confirms the importance of optronics in future air combat systems,” added the company.
The PDL-NG program now moves to prototype design, which will be followed by flight trials and qualification of the first serial pod. Thales expects that the French air force will begin service with the pod in 2018. The current military program law calls for 20 pods, with 16 for delivery in 2018-2019. Fighters will be equipped with one each of the centerline pods.
“The PDL-NG is the result of close and constructive collaboration between specifiers, users and Thales,” said Gil Michielin, Thales vice president for optronics. “It will provide air forces an effective and competitive system. The award of the development contract confirms the government’s support for France’s airborne optronics sector and its engineering and industrial capabilities.”
The new laser designation pod is one of several improvements France is making to the “omnirole” Rafale. On December 30, the DGA notified Dassault Aviation of a development contract to integrate the MBDA Meteor air-to-air missile, the laser homing version of the Sagem AASM air-to-ground modular weapon, and the Thales PDL-NG pod on the Rafale–bringing the fourth-generation fighter to the F3R standard.
The Meteor missile will be used in conjunction with the Thales RBE2 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, which has been fitted to all production Rafales delivered since mid-2013, according to Dassault. In the air defense and superiority roles, the radar will allow Rafale pilots to fire the Meteor “at extreme ranges.” French Rafales employed the Sagem AASM during operations in Libya in 2011 “to destroy targets at ranges of several tens of kilometers with metric precision. The laser homing version is particularly adapted to moving targets,” Dassault said.
The Rafale entered service with the French navy in 2004 and with the air force in 2006. In January, Dassault said it had delivered 126 of the 180 fighters ordered by the French military.