Thales is pressing ahead with development of TALIOS, which the French company claims is the first optronic pod to properly combine intelligence-gathering with weapons delivery. Both TALIOS and the larger AREOS reconnaissance pod, which it also claims has some unique features, are designed for the Dassault Rafale combat jet–and both have attracted export orders from the Middle East.
TALIOS is an acronym for Targeting Long-range Identification Optronic System. It is a follow-on from the company’s Damocles navigation and targeting pod, for which Thales took 120 orders, two-thirds of them for export.
Like other such pods from competing suppliers, operators found a new role for Damocles as an imagery sensor–the so-called Non-Traditional Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (NTISR) role. Thales says that in designing TALEOS with the latest sensors and stabilization techniques, and by adding a third optical window, it has eliminated some of the shortcomings of previous pods when collecting imagery. For instance, it has a wide field of view, and is able to operate throughout the mission.
Further, Thales claims that TALIOS is the only pod to provide color imagery to NATO standards, while other new features include day or night operation from any altitude; scene-matching; and automatic detection and tracking of mobile targets.
TALIOS was previously known as the Pod de Désignation Laser de Nouvelle Génération (PDL-NG), and its development has been funded by the French government since late 2012. It was unveiled in July 2014, and will be test-flown for the first time on a Rafale next year, with first deliveries following in 2018. The major subcontractors are Sofradir (infrared detectors) and Liebherr (cooling).
The TALIOS pod is the same shape as Damocles, and approximately the same weight, and can therefore be substituted easily. Thales (Stand 700, Chalet P4) won’t identify the export customers, but Qatar is acquiring Rafales, and Saudi Arabia might seek to replace the Damocles on its Tornado and Typhoon fleets.
AREOS (Airborne REcce Observation System) is the much bigger podded system carried on the centerline of French Rafales and Mirage 2000s. It is qualified for flight up to 600 knots, and can withstand the shock of carrier operations. For greater flexibility and coverage, the optics move fore-and-aft within the head of the rotating pod.
“We cover a large swath of the ground at very high resolution in a single pass. We use real-time computer processing onboard to devise flight paths and determine whether to move the head or the optics,” said Bruno Depardon, the Thales product manager for airborne optronics.
The pod provides dual-band imagery from low, fast flights or from high-altitude stand-off ranges–which Depardon declined to specify. However, he noted that AREOS can cover 10,000-sq-km-per-hour from 20,000 feet, and can therefore “do the work of many UAVs.”
It is the only system on the market that also provides video in both the infrared and visible spectrum, according to the Thales manager. “The video is the same resolution and range as the still images, although the field-of-view is narrower. AREOS can switch rapidly between the two modes,” he added. Thales also provides the ground station to which AREOS imagery is downlinked for processing, exploitation and dissemination.
To support the customers for these systems, Thales has created an innovation center at its Elaincourt facility near Paris where pilots, engineers and analysts can generate a realistic visual operating environment. The Image’Inn can portray different visibilities, altitudes and lighting. “We can change every parameter in real time. This saves a huge amount of training time for pilots. We used this room to develop TALIOS with them,” said Depardon.
One of the limitations of imaging-cum-targeting pods has been the need for aircrew to slew the pod-head to the area of interest, and then switch from wide to narrow field-of-view for positive identification and designation of targets. In so doing, situational awareness can be lost.
Thales claims that it has a unique solution, which it has named Permanent View, with geo-referenced imagery from a wide area that is likely to be covered on the mission is stored in the pod. If (for instance) a pilot sees an explosion on the ground or is informed of a target by troops-in-contact, he can arrange to see the surrounding terrain on a cockpit display, with the pod’s field-of-view indicated at center-screen.
This makes slewing the pod easier, and also helps the pilot avoid maneuvers that might temporarily mask the target.