Mr Herve Dammann, Executive Vice President of Land and Air Systems at Thales to «Al Jundi»: We Provide Innovative Solutions for Securing Sovereign Skies

Thales is a globally recognized leading company in the fields of technology‭, ‬security‭, ‬and defence‭. ‬With a rich history and extensive experience in various technological domains‭, ‬Thales provides advanced solutions for both military and civilian sectors‭. ‬

To get an in-depth understanding of this French company‭, ‬its areas of expertise‭, ‬and its latest products‭, ‬Al Jundi Journal interviewed Mr Herve Dammann‭, ‬the Executive Vice President of Land and Air Systems at Thales and had the following dialogue with him‭:‬

Talk to us about Thales and its fields of work in land and air systems‭, ‬and the most prominent products it offers its customers‭.‬

Thales land and air systems provide our customers with faster detection‭, ‬deeper understanding for advanced decision-making and more efficient and precise actions‭. ‬We pioneer advanced‭, ‬integrated technology that enables military safety and superiority and makes flying safer and more efficient‭. ‬

Our technologies cover all layers of the airspace‭. ‬For lower airspace‭, ‬we developed our Ground-based air defence‭ (‬GBAD‭) & ‬drone‭ ‬systems‭. ‬For instance‭, ‬Thales offers an integrated Counter Unmanned Aircraft System designed to detect‭, ‬identify‭, ‬track and neutralize drones flying in civilian airspace through methods including electromagnetic signal jamming‭, ‬interception by a swarm of drones and directed energy weapons‭.‬

Thales mini UAV Spy’ranger is also part of this lower layer as it can support frontline troops through Intelligence‭, ‬Surveillance and Reconnaissance‭ (‬ISR‭) ‬missions as well as our loitering munitions‭, ‬TOUTATIS‭, ‬designed for‮ ‬high-intensity combat‭.‬

Then for the short to middle-range solution Thales has developed ForceShield a fully integrated and interoperable combat-proven‭ ‬ground-based Air Defence solution‭, ‬designed to protect forces‭, ‬citizens and vital assets against increasingly diverse threats‭ – ‬from low-altitude air threats such as UAS to helicopter‭, ‬fighter ground attacks or cruise missiles‭. ‬

Moreover‭, ‬we have RapidFire‭, ‬a true multirole defence system‭. ‬It offers surface-to-air and surface-to-surface capabilities‭, ‬including the ability to counter micro-UAVs

Furthermore‭, ‬the Ground Master Multi-Mission All-in-one‭ (‬GM200‭ ‬MM/A‭) ‬is a Multi-mission medium-range radar offering more time-on‭-‬target‭, ‬making it a real game changer for protecting ground assets‭. ‬The Ground Master 200‭ ‬Multi-Mission family‭ (‬GM200‭ ‬MM‭) ‬is the new generation of Thales’‭ ‬medium-range ground radar including Thales 4D AESA technology‭.‬

Concerning medium to long range‭, ‬the SAMP/T integrated collaborative combat system for IAMD‭ (‬integrated‭, ‬anti-aircraft and anti‭-‬ballistic missile defence‭) ‬helps protect large areas‭.‬

Thales has displayed for the first time‭, ‬outside France‭, ‬the IAMD system at World Defence Show‭, ‬a one-of-a-kind solution that can be adapted to the operational needs of the country to support detection‭, ‬decision-making and neutralization of threats‭. ‬

Given that air supremacy is also a matter of tactical and strategic advantage‭, ‬Thales airborne optronics capability is key‭. ‬The‭ ‬2-in-1‭ ‬targeting‭ & ‬reconnaissance pod TALIOS‭ (‬Targeting Long-range Identification Optronic System‭), ‬is an omnirole pod that will‭ ‬enable on-board Artificial Intelligence‭ (‬AI‭) ‬to become the best digital partner for fighter pilots‭.‬

In the context of evolving threats‭, ‬it is vital both for the industry and countries to adapt their response to their environment‭. ‬Thales offers customised solutions to preserve peace and sovereignty for its customers‭.‬

What do you think of the evolution of drone technology within the Land and Air Systems department over the years‭, ‬and what significant advancements do you foresee in the near future‭?‬

Aerial drones are a perfect illustration of the two sides‭ (‬clear and obscure‭) ‬that characterize the use of many technologies‭. ‬At‭ ‬one end of the spectrum are drones that operate in a completely legitimate way in the airspace‭. ‬They are used by official bodies or private individuals‭, ‬government departments or companies‭, ‬to carry out different tasks‭. ‬For example‭, ‬on the battlefield‭, ‬drones have demonstrated considerable surveillance and protection capabilities for front-line fighters‭. ‬Similarly‭, ‬in the civil field‭, ‬we are gradually exploring the possibilities of commercial delivery and we already know their role in providing logistical‭ ‬support for surveillance‭, ‬security or emergency services‭.‬

Then we have drones that pose a danger by their mere presence in restricted areas‭, ‬such as ports or airports‭, ‬or in restricted airspace‭. ‬Not to mention drones designed to collect information‭, ‬drones ignoring all regulations and flying illegally‭, ‬up to the‭ ‬most malicious uses‭: ‬armed drones‭, ‬which pose an obvious threat to populations and infrastructure‭.‬

This is why Thales has invested in two distinct areas that affect drone management‭. ‬

The first is the management of authorized drone traffic‭. ‬This requires cooperation with all parties concerned‭, ‬from operators to‭ ‬regulatory aviation authorities‭. ‬This management must be automated to be able to operate with autonomous and remotely piloted drones‭, ‬whether granting flight authorizations for automated machines or monitoring the presence of drones operating in lower airspace to avoid the risk of conflicts or even collisions with piloted aircraft‭. ‬We also need to establish flight paths‭.‬

The second is an integrated Counter Unmanned Aircraft System designed to detect‭, ‬identify‭, ‬track and neutralize drones to protect sensitive sites such as airports‭, ‬sports arenas‭, ‬critical infrastructure and large facilities‭. ‬

Thales C-UAS solutions offer a clear‭, ‬simplified view of the situation to protect the airspace in real-time‭. ‬A variety of drone‭ ‬countermeasures have been designed to provide the right response to the threat depending on the operational context‭. ‬If the existence of a threat is confirmed‭, ‬Thales can incorporate a range of technical solutions‭, ‬including electromagnetic signal jamming‭,‬‭ ‬interception by a swarm of drones and directed energy weapons‭, ‬to neutralize the rogue drone‭.‬

Drones have become increasingly integral to military operations‭, ‬what challenges have you encountered in integrating drone technology into existing land and air systems‭, ‬and what innovative solutions has your department implemented to address these challenges‭?‬

At Thales we can develop new systems with collective intelligence‭. ‬Leveraging our experience in drones‭, ‬UAS management systems‭, ‬surveillance‭, ‬and aerial operations as well as air defence‭. ‬We are shaping solutions to integrate drones in the‭ (‬Air-Land Combat‭ ‬bubble‭) ‬providing forces with the operational capabilities needed for current and future conflicts‭.‬

Operational superiority in high-intensity combat is the result of a combination of manoeuvres involving various platforms‭, ‬dismounted and embarked units supported by contact UAVs and associated loitering munitions engaged individually or in packs‭.‬

By building on innovations such as the Combat Digital Platform‭, ‬and combining them with secure communications‭, ‬autonomy services‭ ‬and orchestration‭, ‬Thales can respond to a crucial issue today‭: ‬the need to operate several systems at the same time‭, ‬with a single operator‭, ‬while being able to react effectively to mission hazards and retaining human control over the machine‭. ‬‮ ‬

Thales’s ability to propose a universal Command and Control‭ (‬C2‭) ‬system to control multiple drone types‭, ‬secure datalinks and specific‭ ‬payloads for different missions is unique‭. ‬The Group is agnostic as far as platforms‭ (‬including drones‭) ‬are concerned‭. ‬Our sensors‭ (‬radars‭, ‬optronics‭, ‬etc‭.), ‬effectors and C2‭ ‬can be implemented with various solutions according to the needs of the client‭. ‬

Moreover‭, ‬High-intensity warfare is characterized by unprecedented violence‭, ‬significantly increasing the stress levels of combatants and reducing their cognitive abilities‭. ‬Our systems offer AI-based‭ (‬hyper-assistants‭) ‬to enable combatants to understand the situation faster than the enemy does‭. ‬

Thales Spy’Ranger contact UAV systems offer a concentration of the most innovative technologies available on the market‭. ‬Spy’Ranger UAVs are used for multi-domain intelligence‭, ‬reconnaissance‭, ‬surveillance and protection missions‭. ‬The armed forces and security forces of several countries‭, ‬including the French Army‭ (‬SMDR programme‭), ‬use them‭. ‬Interoperable with intelligence and artillery systems‭, ‬Spy’Ranger drones have become the eyes and ears of armed forces in the collaborative combat of the future‭. ‬They enable forces to accelerate the OODA‭ (‬Observe‭, ‬Orient‭, ‬Decide‭, ‬Act‭) ‬decision loop‭, ‬i.e‭. ‬to detect the adversary‭, ‬anticipate his actions and act before he does‭.‬

With the growing use of drones in various sectors‭, ‬security concerns have become more pronounced‭. ‬How does your department approach ensuring the security and resilience of drone systems against potential cyber threats and unauthorized access‭?‬

Thales is one of the world’s top five players in the cybersecurity market‭. ‬With the acquisition of 9‭ ‬companies in 9‭ ‬years‭ (‬Imperva‭, ‬Excellium‭, ‬S21‭ ‬Sec‭, ‬Tesserant‭, ‬Gemalto‭, ‬etc‭.), ‬Thales has strong strategic ambitions to develop its cybersecurity footprint‭. ‬With a workforce of more than 5,500‭ ‬cybersecurity experts around the world‭, ‬revenues are expected to grow from 1.6‭ ‬to 2.4‭ ‬billion Euros in 2024‭. ‬

All Thales solutions are cybersecure by design‭. ‬With more than 40‭ ‬years of experience in civil and military air operations‭, ‬Thales has extensive expertise in command and control‭,‬‮ ‬and air defence systems cybersecurity‭.‬

Moreover‭, ‬given the systematic use of communications Jamming GNSS signals‭, ‬the systems Thales offers are equipped with the latest innovations in communications‭, ‬navigation and positioning to enable them to survive in the most contested environments‭. ‬

The datalink system is vital for remotely operated vehicles‭, ‬enabling operators to control the vehicle and receive live image feeds on land‭, ‬at sea‭, ‬or in the air‭. ‬Thales engineers successfully designed the‭ ‬µTMA‭, ‬ensuring a compact‭, ‬lightweight‭, ‬and energy-efficient solution‭. ‬This allows for optimal flight capabilities without compromising exceptional data rates and geographic range‭.‬

The‭ ‬µTMA is equally impressive when it comes to cybersecurity‭. ‬To counter enemy hackers’‭ ‬attempts to intercept the signal to listen to the communications or siphon off the data these threats‭, ‬all the data transmitted‭ ‬through‭ ‬µTMA is encrypted and communications with the ground station are protected by a stringent identification process‭.‬

Moreover‭, ‬the‭ ‬µTMA is resistant to jamming and has an‭ (‬anti-replay)system that prevents adversaries from taking control of the drone‭.‬

Innovation is crucial for staying ahead in the field of air systems‭. ‬Can you share some recent innovative solutions or projects‭ ‬that your department has been involved in‭, ‬particularly those that showcase advancements in air system technology‭?‬

Thales Group relies on 130‭ ‬years of innovation‭, ‬investing 4‭ ‬Billion‭ ‬€‭ ‬in R&D every year with 33,000‭ ‬engineers on a total of 77,000‭ ‬employees worldwide‭. ‬Thales anticipates and takes advantage of each major technological shift to develop the best technologies in its fields of operations‭ (‬radar‭, ‬radio‭, ‬medical imaging‭, ‬cyber‭, ‬3-5‭ ‬semiconductors‭, ‬trusted AI‭, ‬etc‭.).‬

The Group relies on a common technological base‭: ‬AI‭, ‬cyber‭, ‬connectivity‭, ‬big data‭, ‬and quantum computing‭.‬

In the air defence domain‭, ‬through innovation‭, ‬Thales develops the strongest technologies to secure the skies‭. ‬Many areas of technological breakthroughs influence the balance of power in this field including digital‭, ‬end-to-end connectivity‭, ‬stealth‭, ‬quantum computing‭, ‬robotization‭, ‬hypersonics and weapons with directed effects‭.‬

One of the recent innovations I am proud of is the Ground Master 200‭ ‬Multi-Mission family‭ (‬GM200‭ ‬MM‭). ‬It is the new generation of Thales’‭ ‬medium-range ground radar including Thales 4D AESA technology‭. ‬

The GM200‭ ‬MM exists in two different mobile versions‭: ‬

The Ground Master 200‭ ‬Multi-Mission‭ (‬all in one‭) (‬GM200‭ ‬MM/A‭) ‬targeting mainly Air Surveillance as well as Ground-Based Air Defence‭ (‬GBAD‭) ‬operations‭ (‬up to low-level Medium Range Air Defence‭ – ‬MRAD‭). ‬

It maintains the well-known GM200‭ ‬integrated Command and Control shelter and facilitates space for the radar mast to gain elevation for low-level air surveillance and the two operators onboard‭. ‬

The Ground Master 200‭ ‬Multi-Mission‭ (‬compact‭) ‬version‭ (‬GM200‭ ‬MM/C‭) ‬is a pallet version offering higher tactical mobility and quicker deployment‭, ‬as well as specific mission capabilities such as artillery Counter Battery and Weapon Locating‭. ‬It also suits Very Short and Short Range Air Defence‭ (‬VSHOR/SHORAD‭) ‬missions‭, ‬similar to the GM200‭ ‬MM/A‭. ‬

Both versions are easy to transport‭, ‬optimized for network-centric remote operations‭, ‬and ultimately save time in planning‭, ‬training and operation‭. ‬

The 4D AESA technology is at the heart of these exceptional radars‭. ‬The digital‭& ‬software-defined 4D AESA radar technology offers upgrade capacity over the whole life cycle to permanently maintain the tailored operational capability against evolving threats‭, ‬including enhanced tracking and classification performance‭. ‬

Looking ahead‭, ‬what potential applications of drone technology do you find most exciting or promising for the Land and Air Systems‭, ‬and how do you anticipate these applications shaping the future of military operations‭?‬

As the keystone of these future battles‭, ‬the role of artificial intelligence in defence will only increase‭, ‬as it sorts through‭ ‬the masses of information gathered‭, ‬helps analyze situations and proposes a range of decision-making solutions‭. ‬In short‭, ‬the aim is to put computing power at the service of humans‭, ‬who will‭, ‬of course‭, ‬remain in the loop and make the final decisions‭. ‬On this front‭, ‬Thales‭, ‬a pioneer in the development of disruptive technologies‭, ‬has a major role to play‭, ‬all within a transparent‭, ‬intelligible and ethical AI approach‭, ‬named‭ (‬TrUE AI‭). ‬All these technological advances offer a new‭, ‬secure horizon for the protection of sovereign skies‭.‬

 » ‬Interviewed by‭: «Al Jundi»

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