Radar systems business thriving for ThalesRaytheon

 - June 9, 2009, 9:57 AM

Ground Master 400, the new ThalesRaytheonSystems air defense radar on display here in Thales’ outdoor compound, is just completing its development ahead of deliveries due to start next year, but is already racking up substantial sales. Other advanced radar programs involving Thales and its joint venture with Raytheon are also coming to fruition.

Malaysia, Slovenia and France were the first customers for the Ground Master 400, but the biggest order so far came just last month from Finland and Estonia, which
are buying 12 and two, respectively, in a joint procurement. Along with a mid-life upgrade to five existing Thales Teresa 22XX long-range air defense radars, the deal is worth around $270 million.

ThalesRaytheonSystems has been in existence for eight years, and the GM 400 made a major contribution to orders that totaled around $1 billion last year, according to Dominique Simmoneau, who is in charge of development for the transatlantic joint venture, at a preshow briefing at Thales Air Systems’ Limours site in France. That figure was well above the previous year’s $690 million and the 2006 tally of $550 million. The 2008 intake was rounded off by a $217 million contract to upgrade U.S. Army Firefinder radars.

Peter Terpstra, director of product development for Thales, said the S-band GM 400 offers “excellent” performance at all altitudes and particularly against small targets. Weighing 10 tons and fitting into a standard 20-foot container or a single C-130 transport, it scans at 10 rpm rather than the 5 or 6 rpm typical of other radars.

A stepped radar beam means the radar’s entire range is scanned at all times, Terpstra said, and the solid-state digital antenna integrates long-range and Doppler waveforms in the same scan. It can discriminate targets at different speeds better than anything else, he added, and it is intelligent. “It is made for operators,” said Terpstra. “The radar adapts itself automatically, so it will use a lot of Doppler when it detects a lot of clutter, for example. The operator just tells it what to look for.”

The digital array also helps achieve a figure of 3,000 hours between failures  through graceful degradation. With a traveling wave tube you get high power. “But if the tube fails, you lose the radar,” Terpstra explained. “The Ground Master has several hundred small transmitters so you can lose a few without impacting performance.”

Sharing the Le Bourget limelight and some of the same technology is the antenna for the M3R-G8100 S-band ballistic missile defense radar developed jointly by Thales and ThalesRaytheonSystems. The M3R, so called because it is multifunctional, mobile and modular, is more than 10 times more powerful than the GM 400 in order to detect tactical ballistic missiles at ranges better than 500 nm. Currently nearing the end of a seven-year development program, it is designed to help protect forward-deployed troops and can be deployed in three hours.

Next month should see the delivery of the first Thales Herakles radar for France’s new FREMM multi-role frigates. Dominique Peyrad, who heads the Herakles program, said the radar combines the detection and tracking of air and surface targets with the ability to uplink commands to the vessels’ Aster anti-aircraft missiles using the same antenna.

Herakles transmits a dedicated tracking waveform for each aerial target, and can initiate a track quickly enough for the beam to be steered back electronically during the same scan in order to confirm the location and track, Peyrad said. Thales delivered the first set last December to shipbuilder DCNS for tests in Toulon.