A new member may join the large family of Thales air defence radars. While Ground Fire is still only at the concept stage, Thales has confirmed that it has initiated discussions with the French Ministry of Armed Forces in order to determine its potential interest and uses.
Unveiled on May 31 during a press trip, the Ground Fire system is the ground-based counterpart of the Sea Fire active antenna radar designed for the French Navy’s future Intermediate Frigates (FTI). But unlike the Sea Fire and its four fixed panels, the Ground Fire will consist of a single truck-mounted mobile radar antenna.
Fully digital, the Ground Fire radar is designed to simultaneously detect and track a wide range of targets, such as ballistic missiles, at 360° and in a radius of 400km. According to Thales, the Ground Fire will also be able to guide an anti-aircraft missile, such as the Aster used by the Air Force, onto a manoeuvring target. Very compact and deployable in 10/15 minutes, the Ground Fire will be extremely mobile and air-transportable.
While the Ground Fire is still at the design stage, the production of the first elements of the Sea Fire radar has already begun at the Thales site in Rouen. A first prototype will take shape in two months on the site of Limours for a test phase on a full panel in mid-2018.
Both the Ground Fire and the Sea Fire correspond to the need to develop a new generation of multi-function and modular radars combining common hardware and open architecture software. In other words, “a smartphone on which applications would be added as needed,” explained Gaston Marcantoni, director of multifunctional surface radars at Thales. These radars will therefore consist of identical transmitter/receiver modules, facilitating de facto the production and maintenance phases, in which Thales can integrate or modify specific missions. A standardisation policy which also allows the manufacturer to adapt the number of modules to increase or decrease the radar power according to clients’ needs.
This design policy is a result of the “Strong Product Policy” programme launched by Thales in 2005 to drastically reduce the number of constituent elements of a radar. In the space of a decade, Thales has managed to drop from the 50 different elements for the Arabel radar installed on the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier, to only three elements for the Ground Fire.
Because Thales rarely uses innovation in the singular, the “Fire” family will be produced according to the precepts of the equally innovative concept of “Factory 4.0”. Launched in Germany in the early 2000s, this innovative production process relies on the inter-connectivity between the robots that make up a production line. “We were forced to thoroughly review the way we work,” admits Marc Fiolin, director of the Thales site in Rouen, because to meet a growing demand, “there is no other solution than to introduce improvements.” The first unit of this type, qualified by the end of 2017, will be installed in Morocco, said Fiolin.