Saint Tropez, France: At a first glance, Saint Tropez on the French Riviera, 80 kilometres west of Cannes, seems like the perfect holiday destination. There is little to suggest that it could be anything more than what it appears. But there is a different side to this peaceful quaint town in Southern France. It is home to naval defence and energy firm, DCNS Group, which manufactures hi-tech military systems such as torpedoes and underwater weapons here. The DCNS facility, a fortress with many layers of perimeter security, is a reality that is hard to miss.
It was at this facility that FORCE met Eric Droz-Bartholet, DCNS sales executive for India. The obvious starting point of discussion was the Indian Navy’s Scorpene programme. The first Scorpene, christened Kalvari, set afloat in October 2015, and is undergoing various sea trials at the moment. The second in the series will start the same process later this year. Talking about the criticism around the delayed deliveries of the programme, Droz-Bartholet said, “Instead of one submarine a year, now we are going to deliver them every nine months.” The deliveries of six submarines in this latest schedule will end in 2020.
But what about transfer of technology? “We have transferred as much as we could,” he said, adding, “only mast and tubes for the submarines are still manufactured in France, which is not much”. The remaining components for the submarine are all made in India. He emphasised that around 60 per cent of the ‘added value’ of the series had been transferred to India.
Manufacturing of the submarine is just one part of the interest for the DCNS Group. A majority of work, they expect, would be from the services and life support for the submarines. “DCNS is promoting a globalisation of the support like that exercised with the French Navy or the Royal Malaysian Navy for the Scorpenes,” he said. There are currently various Request for Information (RFI) and Request for Proposals (RFP) for spares, technical assistance, training, simulators, and level-D maintenance (major overhaul and complete rebuild of parts) of the ships. Giving examples of the French Navy submarines where DCNS has ensured nearly 80 per cent availability, Droz-Bartholet said that they could ensure a similar availability for the Indian Navy’s scorpenes as well. “We could ensure the availability of, say, 240 days a year or even more. And the Indian Navy could penalise us if that sort of availability is not maintained”. Essentially, the navy could ease themselves off from maintenance and instead focus solely on operations.
However, that sort of strategic partnership is certainly a challenge in the Indian context. At present budgetary constraints allow navy to procure limited number of spares. In case of a maintenance agreement, Droz-Bartholet pointed out that “it would be roughly the price of a submarine for the maintenance throughout its lifetime”.
The submarines are currently operating from Mumbai and will later be shifted to Karwar naval base.
DCNS has been shortlisted for Project Seabird along with companies from Netherlands and the US to design a part of the Karwar base in the western coast of India. Once completed, Project Seabird envisages the Karwar naval base to be the largest base in the eastern hemisphere. Now, with the Scorpene submarines ready to get in service with the Indian Navy, and to be operated from Karwar base, DCNS is expecting to grab a chunk of the Project Seabird. Giving parallels of previous global projects related to naval base design, Droz-Bartholet said, “DCNS is also involved in giving support for naval base and shipyard. We have designed naval bases in Malaysia and Brazil”. Both navies of Malaysia and Brazil currently operate Scorpene submarines.
But with the emphasis on ‘Make in India’, the project will be open only to Indian companies. The foreign original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) would be free to partner with the Indian companies and compete for the project. This might rule out the possibility of Mazagon Dock Limited (MDL), which has partnered with DCNS so far on the Scorpene programme, for Project Seabird. “We are open to partnering with a private company as well”, he added.
In the follow-on contract of the Scorpene programme, DCNS will finalise negotiations with MDL to add new features such as Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) system. AIP system has been developed by Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and DCNS will have to package and redesign it to be fitted on to the Scorpene. “We need to give a price quotation for the AIP by the end of the year,” said Droz-Bartholet. “AIP can be installed even to the existing Scorpenes in their major refit”.
The Saint Tropez facility of DCNS has been manufacturing various underwater weapons, most notable among them (also relevant to the Indian market) are F-21 heavy weight torpedo and MU-90 light-weight torpedo. After the cancellation of the Black Shark torpedo programme, DCNS has proposed F-21 as an alternative for Scorpene submarines of the Indian Navy. Developed primarily for the French Navy’s new generation of nuclear attack submarines of Barracuda class, the F-21 claims to be one of the safest torpedoes on the submarine. DCNS boasts of the F-21 not exploding under any circumstances on-board the submarine, even in case of fire onboard, or if the torpedo is dropped or fired accidentally. “More than 100 F-21 torpedoes have been ordered so far to be integrated on to the French Navy’s Rubis and Barracuda class submarines, and also for the Brazilian Scorpene submarines”, informed Droz-Bartholet.
“Even if the Indian Navy asks for these torpedoes urgently, we can deliver them,” he said. The Saint Tropez facility could increase the rate of production of F-21 to meet the urgent requirements. “Integration of F-21 to Scorpene will be seamless because the torpedo is intelligent… No changes in hardware and the combat management system (CMS) are required to integrate it into the Scorpene submarine”.
One of the technological advancements in F-21, according to the company, is its battery. Instead of silver zinc for the battery, the torpedo uses aluminium silver oxide technology which will apparently have three times the power available for the same volume. This allows F-21 to have much higher range and maximum speed available, making it an extremely lethal weapon. While this torpedo has undergone sea trials and is currently under certification, it will clear all the final hurdles much before the delivery of the first Barracuda submarine of the French Navy in 2017.
MU-90 light weight torpedo is another major weapon produced at the Saint Tropez facility. This light weight torpedo is qualified for more than 15 platforms – both airborne and naval - including NH-90 helicopter and FREMM frigate.
Indian Navy’s programme for the Landing Platform Docks (LPD) is also another interest for DCNS where it had partnered with Reliance Defence and Engineering Limited (RDEL) and competed with L&T (partnered with Spain’s Navantia). The competitors are currently awaiting the opening of commercial envelopes. The commercial bids that were quoted in 2014 expired and the Indian Navy had asked the companies to extend the bid until opening of the envelope. “Holding on to the rates is a challenge,” feels Droz-Bartholet but he is ready to wait until the envelopes are opened and the decision is taken by the Indian defence ministry. For the programme, DCNS will design and build the ship, and most of the equipment inside the ship will come from Indian partners.
Further, DCNS which also has expertise in CATOBAR (catapult assisted take off but with arrested recovery) aircraft carrier, CVN Charles De Gaulle, is looking at the opportunities in the Indian Navy’s aircraft carrier programme - IAC-2. While discussions with the US government on this programme are at a slightly advanced stage, French and Russian companies have also offered proposals to build the aircraft carrier.
DCNS, which is standing by its proposal, has claimed that it had some initial discussions with the Indian Navy.
First two crew of Indian submariners on Scorpene are undergoing a two-year training in Mumbai
Toulon, France: Procurements from France are never about the equipment and associated technical training alone, there is a huge emphasis on operational training that ensures the transfer of French military ‘know-how’ to the customer. Several military forces across the world, including middle-eastern defence forces, had benefitted from this. The most recent addition to this is the training for the Indian Scorpene programme.
Defense Counseil International (DCI), the reference operator of the French ministry of defence (MoD) that is tasked with the transfer of French military knowhow to friendly countries, has signed a contract with the Indian shipyard Mazagon Dock Limited (MDL) to train the first two crew of Indian Scorpene submariners. “DCI instructors are in Mumbai currently. Training for the first submarine is underway and the same will happen for the second submarine soon after,” said Bruno Nielly, director of DCI/NAVFCO, and a retired vice admiral of the French Navy. The training started on 1 September 2015. During the test phase, training in accordance with current French Navy standards will take place initially on shore and then at sea on the first two submarines.
The DCI team in Mumbai consists of nine former French submariners and they are tasked to train 100 Indian sailors over the course of a 22-month programme. They are essentially three crews of around 30 people each plus reserves, and future Indian instructors. These Indian instructors will thereafter handle the training for the remaining submarine crews. “The two-year training course will help the Indian sailors assimilate knowledge from the conventional HDW and Kilo class submarines to Scorpenes,” added Nielly.
The Indian contract for DCI is different from that of Malaysia. Indian Navy is much evolved in its operations as compared to Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN); it is for this reason the Malaysian training for Scorpenes has lasted 10 years where DCI is responsible for full military training of Malaysian submariners. DCI was also involved in the creation and operation of a submariner and future submariner training school for the RMN on the Kota Kinabalu naval base in Malaysia.
Of course, it is entirely up to the customer to decide whether or not the operational training is required, or to what extent. In this case, India only chose to opt for a short, two-year training that would train sufficient submariners to take over the operations from the manufacturers. While the DCI training is usually associated with contracts signed with the French industry, it can also help ‘friendly countries’ in transitioning their armed forces to the French standard. Countries in the Middle East are taking advantage of this training programme. In Kuwait, DCI provides maintenance of 25 helicopters of the Kuwait Air Force (Gazelle, Puma and Super Puma). The UAE has opted for training of Leclerc tank operators and maintenance personnel for its ground forces.
In 2015, DCI and Dassault Aviation teamed up to train future aeronautical maintenance specialists. The DCI can now provide English language training in three main areas of aeronautical maintenance: platforms, avionics and weapons. DCI, in cooperation with MBDA, had also organised a two-week training course for Qatari officers on the tactical employment of the Milan ER (extended range) antitank missile. The objective of the course was to provide operational training to complement the technical training delivered by MBDA.
Perhaps it is important to understand how French military has managed to ensure such high degree of cooperation with its industry, so much so that the defence exports are not just the focus for the industry, but also very important for the French military forces. Direction generale de l’armement (DGA), the French government’s defence procurement agency which looks after the purchase of weapons systems for French military and manages ongoing programmes, ensures that the military and the industry have highest degree of cooperation.
The capability of the military is entirely dependent on the industry, and the survival for the industry depends on the military. It is for this reason that the industry develops cutting edge capabilities keeping the needs of the French forces, and the military ensures that the industry survives by bringing in innovations into their service. It is also why the French export offers include the know-how of the military along with its products, as almost all the equipment that are on export offer have been used by the French forces.
Shore Integration Facility
In the case of FREMM frigates that are currently in service (and under procurement) with the French Navy, the industry - DCNS and Thales – come together with DGA at the test site at Toulon to integrate new developments to its combat management system (CMS) and validate the existing technology onboard. At Shore Integration Facility (SIF), the DGA tests various air defence systems and undertake trials with real aircrafts and helicopters. “A Shore Integration Facility is a representative combat system installed ashore in a realistic maritime environment,” said Pascal Guillou, business director, DGA naval systems.
Inside the DCNS operational room for the FREMM at SIF, the technicians analyse onboard recordings of the FREMM frigate, performing dedicated trials on request, and testing new combat software for French Navy. “Combat system integration and qualification for all the FREMMs are completed,” said DCNA executive Pierrick Etiemble, the combat management programme manager for FREMM.
Also at the SIF, Thales’ radars Herkles and Artemis collect real time information, simulating the environment of the FREMM frigate, and integrate the development in its software with DCNS’ combat management system. At later stage, Thales will replace Herkles with Sea Fire 500 radar which will give advantage to the frigate in ballistic missile defence missions. By mid-2020, Thales will deliver first Sea Fire radar to DCNS to be integrated on to the future FREMM frigates.
A tour inside Rubis class SSN that is undergoing a major refit at Toulon
Toulon naval base: In one of the three dry docks at Toulon naval base, a major refit programme is underway for French Navy’s Rubis class nuclear attack submarine, Amethyste. With its nuclear propulsion system removed and the internal wiring exposed, it resembled something straight out of a garage. One journalist jokingly said, “It urgently needs a paint job”. But what it packs underneath is a capability that served the French Navy valiantly for 24 years.
“This refit will add 10 more years to the submarine,” said Thiebault Guillaume, maintenance programme director for nuclear attack submarines, DCNS. He is currently heading the overhaul work for the Amethyste. “There are around 200 modifications that are being made to the submarine at the moment”, he added. The major refit that is currently underway is planned for 18 months, during which some of the latest technologies for its navigation and communication systems will be introduced onboard submarine. Navigating through the narrow ways from the propulsion room at the rear end to Torpedo compartment with four torpedo tubes, Guillaume explained the general characteristics of the submarine. “If you were here three months ago, none of these wires would have been visible”, he said.
Among the six Rubis class submarines that are in operation with the French Navy, one submarine is always in maintenance and overhaul at the Toulon’s dry docks. It is planned in such a way that the rest of the submarines are available for the navy and are combat ready. With all the other factors taken in, the availability of the submarines is around 80 per cent which is an extremely impressive number, according a French Naval officer.
Next year, when the latest nuclear submarine Barracuda joins the navy, Toulon will dedicate one of its three dry docks for the maintenance of Barracuda.
MBDA’s Naval Cruise Missile will be operational on French Navy’s future Barracuda nuclear submarines from 2018
Le Plessis Robinson, France: At the entrance of MBDA’s building at Le Plessis Robinson in the southwestern suburbs of Paris, stands a life-size model of Storm Shadow/ SCALP missile. This air-launched long range deep strike missile will be part of the Indian Air Force’s Rafale weapons package when the aircraft joins the service in three years. According to MBDA, the missile will give the Indian Air Force (IAF) the ability to strike strategic and military targets with exceptional precision. Not just SCALP, the MBDA has offered the entire range of air-to-air and air-to-land missiles for Rafale.
MBDA’s Naval Cruise Missile firing from submarine
As a part of the Euronaval press tour, MBDA has invited several international media organisations including FORCE to visit their naval facilities where the most popular missiles including VL Mica, Aster, Naval cruise missile, Exocet were under production. Stephano Bertuzzi, head of the naval systems at MBDA, emphasised that the focus for the company during the show will be its offer for maritime superiority. This means that MBDA will showcase its latest air defence, anti-ship and long-range strike missiles.
The latest in MBDA’s inventory, the MdCN (Missile de Croisière Naval) or Naval Cruise Missile is a long-range cruise missile capable of being launched from surface ships and submarines. “This missile will be launched from the torpedo tubes of the submarine,” said Bertuzzi. On France’s future Barracuda nuclear-powered attack submarines, MdCN will be launched through the torpedo tubes. According to MBDA, it will be operational from Barracuda in 2018. MdCN is vertically launched from France’s FREMM frigates using the compact A70 SYLVER vertical launcher. But can it be fired from Indian Navy’s Scorpene? “Scorpene has shorter tubes,” said Bertuzzi. This means that presently it is not possible to integrate the missile to India’s Scorpene submarines. However, he added, “for India we could suggest longer torpedo tubes that can fire the Naval Cruise Missile”. The production rate of the MdCN at Le Plessis Robinson is between five to 10 missiles per month.
MBDA has recently completed deliveries of Exocet SM39 submarine launched anti-ship missile to the Indian Navy’s Scorpene submarines. MBDA’s family of Exocet missiles comprises a range of easy to use fire-and-forget stealthy missiles with flexibility to be fired from all maritime platforms - surface ships (MM40), submarines (SM39), fixed wing aircraft, helicopters (AM39) and coastal batteries. The latest generation of this family of missiles is the Exocet MM40 Block3 which claims to have a range of around 200 kilometres. This missile is available for surface ships and coastal batteries. With support from French ministry of defence, French Navy and various export customers – latest being Chile and Egypt - the production of MM40 Block3 is going strong at the production unit. Chile has recently picked this version of Exocet to replace its Harpoon missile.
The most export friendly among all the missiles is the vertical launched MICA. The interesting part of the missile is that it comes in an individual sealed storage which also doubles up as a launching container. The container can be introduced simply in a hole on a weather deck of a ship. The hatch of the container automatically opens during the firing and after the departure of the missile and exhaust gas, it closes automatically.
MBDA will showcase SIMBAD- RC (remote control) system at Euronaval - 2016. The system can fire two Mistral missiles at a time. “This will be the last system for Mistral,” said Bertuzzi. Small and easy to maintain on ships during deployment, MBDA boasts of this as the only system that can be reloaded at sea. Saudi Arabia has already picked SIMBAD - RC for their operations and will get the delivery in 2017. While this is a lock-on system, which means it needs an operator to spot the target before firing, it can be linked with the ship’s combat management system (CMS) to benefit from its full range.
Another unique missile that can be used as both conventional as well as anti-ballistic missile is MBDA’s Aster missile which will also be part of Euronaval. In service with eight navies around the world, Aster is operational on more than 40 ships.
Under the Watchful Eye
French Navy’s upgraded maritime patrol aircraft feature Thales’ Searchmaster radar, Flash dipping sonar and Safran’s Euroflir pod
Hyeres naval air base, France: Two years ago, at Euronaval 2014, Thales had launched new Searchmaster multirole radar with active electronic scanning antenna (AESA) technology. Searchmaster was selected by the French defence procurement agency (DGA) for the French Navy’s upgraded Atlantique 2 (ALT2) maritime patrol aircraft.
Safran’s Patroller UAV with Euroflir pod
On September 20, when FORCE team visited the Hyeres naval air base in Toulon, south France, the French Navy’s Atlantique 2 was in the process of upgradation, during which the radar was being fitted on to the aircraft. This upgradation will enable the aircraft with the ability to meet all surveillance requirements of the five mission types: anti-surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare, maritime surveillance, ground surveillance and tactical air support. This radar is also designed to be used on MALE (medium altitude, long endurance) UAVs, medium-tonnage or heavy-lift mission helicopters and mission aircraft (turboprop or jet-engined), providing multi mission capabilities to these platforms. In addition, the introduction of AESA technology, coupled with integrated maintenance, pushes down maintenance costs and improves operational availability.
The navy’s other maritime patrol asset, NH90 helicopter, features Thales Flash sonar system and Safran’s Euroflir pod. Thales had won the contract to supply 14 Flash dipping sonars on French Navy’s 27 NH90 helicopters during Euronaval 2012. With these sonar systems, French Navy is fulfilling its anti-submarine warfare missions in conjunction with its FREMM frigates equipped with Captas-4 variable depth sonars, also acquired from Thales. Several navies of the world are already operating the sonars including France (on NH90), the United Kingdom (on Merlin EH101), Norway (on NH90), the United States (on MH 60-R) and the United Arab Emirates (on Cougar). The Flash dipping sonar was developed to counter the threat of quiet submarines operating either in deep or littoral waters, where reverberation and traffic noise make detection particularly difficult.
French Navy’s Dauphin class helicopter, Panther, was also at the naval air base, featuring Safran’s Euroflir pod. Liliane Baldachi, Safran’s representative, said, “Euroflir is capable of delivering full motion video of the target areas for the airborne systems”. The video information can be gathered from the UAVs or helicopters from kilometers away.
Baldachi also spoke about Safran’s export offer for their Patroller UAV with Euroflir 410 pod. “This is the first UAV to be certified to NATO standard 461 (UAV system airworthiness requirements)”, she said. For the French Navy’s Patroller, the company uses radar from Selex, but it could be different for international customers. “Final customer can select their configuration,” she added. Patroller is a versatile long-endurance tactical drone system. It features an open, modular design to handle a broad spectrum of military and security missions, while carrying a multi-sensor payload of up to 250 kg, fuselage or pod-mounted. The Patroller offers endurance of more than 20 hours, and an operating ceiling of 20,000 feet.