Thales Invests in Customer Demo Centers
Thales has many things to show visitors to its enclosure and pavilion outside Hall 2 at the Paris Air Show. But potential customers can also benefit from two new demonstration facilities that the company has built around Paris. At Gennevilliers, a Customer Innovation Centre (CIC) opened last February to show technology and systems from across the company. The previous month, an Operations Centre was opened by the Thales Air Defense business at Rungis. Both are housed in new buildings, with Gennevilliers having replaced the company‘s old site at Colombiers.
“I believe that we have created something quite unique at Gennevilliers,” said Xavier Lagrenade, vice-president of the CIC. “Here we are interfacing and dialoguing with our customers, understanding their needs and explaining our solutions,” he said during a pre-Paris Air Show media tour. “And sometimes we co-construct solutions on our collaborative workstations.”
The CIC can accommodate three or four delegations at a time. It consists of a large central area with big screens where high-level presentations are made and two smaller rooms where specialized equipment and solutions can be explored. A local data center houses all the content, which is distributed via a cloud IT architecture.
During the tour, the big screens were showing Thales’s range of theater communications equipment, including new modems and smartphones, and a system that automatically switches users from line-of-sight radios to satellite communications when the former goes out of range.
In one of the smaller rooms, Valery Rousset was demonstrating the company’s C4ISR capabilities. He is the marketing director for C4ISR and said that Thales is one of only a handful of companies that can provide state-of-the art presentation of intelligence data that has been merged from many sources. He showed a virtual fly-through of the Panshir Valley in Afghanistan, in which every pixel was geo-referenced. The line-of-sight between each point can be computed and merged with electromagnetic data, so that predictions of radio coverage can be made. This is from NATO’s Joint Centre in Kabul; the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is one of Thales’s main customers.
Rousset also showed Geomaker, which presents analysts and commanders with a Recognized Environmental Picture (REP) after it has digested various data and layered it for greater understanding. A typical web portal of intelligence on Somalia was also shown. “Our added value here is that we can add the tactics, techniques and procedures [TTP] in a secure manner,” said Rousset. In another demo, full-motion video taken by a UAV was shown. It had been indexed to accurate satellite imagery of the same terrain via metadata, so that the UAV’s flightpath could be visually depicted.
“We are still only scratching the surface of digitized operations. The added value of Thales is filtering and managing the data,” Rousset said. In the Thales pavilion here, he is showing a tile of rich data on Libya that has been created from unclassified Spot satellite imagery.
At Rungis, Thales shows turnkey air defense solutions that can protect mobile forces; a specific location such as an airbase or a city; or a whole country. “In the Operations Centre, we work with customers in a structured process we have named Idea: identify their needs; design solutions; experiment with the customer; and assess the result,” said Laurent Duport, marketing and strategy director, Thales Advanced Weapons Systems.
“This is a battle lab, not a showroom,” added Philippe Dusautor, vice-president of the same Thales business sector. “Very few companies can offer C4I systems plus radars plus weapons plus communications equipment as we can. We’ve spent millions of Euros and amassed years of experience. It’s difficult to explain the added value of weapons coordination, but we can do that here,” he added.
One of the tools available in the center can compute the ground coverage and detection range of air defense radars for regions and even entire countries, for any given threat’s altitude, taking account of terrain masking, radio connectivity and other factors. Duport said that some potential customers are interested in buying the center itself, without any hardware, to use as a training tool for their air defense operators and commanders.