Eyes and Ears

Sagem’s range of futuristic technologies will change the face of warfare

Ghazala Wahab

Montluçon, France: About 100 kilometres south of Bourges, where the Scorpion tour ended, is an old castle, Argentieres, built in the style of Louis XIII, though constructed sometime in the 19th Century. Quaint, beautiful and surrounded by acres of its own woods, Argentieres is now the property of Sagem, a Safran company.

Inside Sagem’s factory
Inside Sagem’s factory

In 1940, it was bought by Marcel Môme, the person who also founded Sagem. Since then it has been the property of the company. Following a chequered history, in which Argentieres briefly became an R&R resort for the German soldiers recovering after the Russian campaign and thereafter a post-war convalescence home for Sagem employees, it is now a company guest house, where business visitors, customers and journalists are entertained when required.

As the bus carrying journalists, including this correspondent (the only one from India), wove its way through the lush woods towards the castle, it was being watched by the Sagem executives on multiple computer screens inside the castle, so that just as it pulled up at the entrance, the welcome party was already on the porch. This hospitable gesture was actually a technology demonstrator, as the journalists discovered once they were ushered into the conference room fitted with slim French windows, an old fireplace and a couple of chests. In its earlier life, probably this was the room visitors were received in.

But on the day of the briefing, the room looked a tad incongruous, because sitting in the middle of these remains of the past was a modern table with a projector and assorted paraphernalia, facing the wall, where a display screen was set-up. One of the French windows was taken-up completely by monitors, which were part of the demonstration for SAIDRe, a French Army programme for ‘intelligence system based on remote battlefield sensors, to be deployed by Special Forces and army intelligence units’. It was on these monitors that the progress of the bus as it entered the ground was being watched.

SAIDRe involves placing unattended sensor system, OWLSMART in the area that needs to be monitored. The OWLSMART, which has been developed in collaboration with Exensor Technology of Sweden, includes acoustic and seismic sensors along with thermal camera, low-light camera and a passive infra-red barrier. These are then networked, as part of SAIDRe to the command and control centre, which could be a battalion headquarter or higher, as well as to the place where the troops, platoon or a section are located.

Whenever an intrusion is detected, the combination of these sensors is able to generate and transmit in real time both photographic and IR images of the intrusion including short bursts of videos. Of course, photographic imagery consumes greater battery, and hence the sensor would need to be attended to frequently to replace the battery. However, the commander can choose the option of asking the sensor to generate photographs or videos only when he suspects something.

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