Young at 10

Selex Galileo inches closer to sealing the ATOS deal with the Indian Navy

A FORCE Report

Pratica di Mare, Rome: Seldom a relationship of 10 years is called just a beginning. In most cases, even if it does not end, it certainly loses steam, hobbling along primarily because of shared history and common experiences. But the Selex Galileo and Italy’s special police corps under its ministry of economics and finance, Guardia di Finanza’s decade-long partnership is being celebrated as success for it still retains the freshness of first love. At least, that is how it seemed on 24 May 2011, when the Selex Galileo team was feted by Guardia di Finanza (GDF) in the presence of international journalists flown in from various countries especially to witness this culmination of confidence and cooperation. Understandably, the CEO, Selex Galileo, Fabrizio Giulianini, was moved to say, “Our 10th anniversary is the starting point of our future collaboration.”

Gen M Possemato with Ceo Fabrizio Giulianini
(L & R) Gen M Possemato with Ceo Fabrizio Giulianini

The collaboration started tentatively enough. Tasked with the job of patrolling the entire Mediterranean Sea for human and drug traffickers, escapees from north Africa and potential migrants, Guardia di Finanza needed a user-friendly but effective surveillance system that could scan the sea for possible trouble-makers. Selex Galileo, which till then was known for making radars and not complete surveillance and reconnaissance system took up the challenge and came up with what eventually developed as ATOS (airborne tactical observation and surveillance) system and Guardia di Finanza became its first customer. Said Giulianini, “GDF reposed trust in us and our ATOS system. This was the turning point for the company as it gave us the confidence that the company is capable of providing complete integrated surveillance systems. With the GDF contract, Selex Galileo grew from a domestic to a global company.” Since then, 45 ATOS systems mounted on 10 different platforms have been sold to nine customers worldwide.

Selex Galileo is now hopeful of adding the 10th customer to its list. Along with Rosoboronexport, it has submitted an industrial participation proposal to the Indian Navy for the mid-life upgrade of the Kamov 28 anti-submarine warfare (ASW) helicopters. Selex Galileo proposes to install the ATOS system on the upgraded Ka-28 with the Sea Spray multi-mode AESA radar. Seaspray is a low probability of intercept (LPI) radar with high gain and low sidelobes, using composite electronic and mechanical scanning (CEMS) to detect small targets. According to Giulianini, field evaluation trials (FET) of the Ka-28 with ATOS system have concluded successfully. “We are expecting the final negotiations to commence very soon,” he says, adding that, “We are keen to involve the Indian industry as a partner in the development of specific ATOS system tailor-made for the Indian Navy’s requirements. Selex Galileo has also been selected to supply the Sea Spray radar for the Sea King helicopters which are also going to be upgraded. In addition to this, Selex Galileo has recently signed a contract with the Indian Navy to supply electronic support measures. However, Giulianini refused to say for which platform it will be. Making a gesture of zipping up his mouth, he said, “I cannot say more, it is classified information.” Then with a broad smile he added, “Hopefully, we will have more than one reason for celebration by the end of this year.”

While that celebration will happen in good time, for the moment, the limelight was on the GDF. The commander of the Air-Naval Operational Command, GDF (which operates air platform like ATR 42 with the ATOS system), Brigadier General Mennato Possemato, was effusive in his opening remarks. Talking through an interpreter, he said, “We are delighted with our first 10 years of collaboration with Selex Galileo. The activities of the Air-Naval Operational Command have increased constantly in the last 10 years, particularly in the struggle against drug-trafficking and seaborne crimes. The geopolitical context is increasingly complex and challenging, and we are certain that by working together with industry and other bodies we will secure renewed success in addressing the new challenges ahead of us.”

Following the introductory addresses, a young major from GDF’s Air-Naval Operational Command gave a video presentation showcasing some of the recent operations that they have carried out in the Mediterranean. Apart from rescuing hundreds of potential immigrants in distress while trying to escape to Canary islands, GDF in a recent operation intercepted a huge cache of drugs, including 7,286kg of cocaine, 11,631kg of hashish and 316kg of marijuana. It also captured 17 boats and arrested 36 people. An achievement as much for the force as for the technology which made it possible.

After the theoretical exposition on the ATOS system, the journalists were escorted to the flight line for a sortie in ATR42 to see first-hand how it works. Unlike other aircraft, the patrol version of ATR42 had two huge circular glass windows in the rear of the plane slightly protruding outside for visual surveillance. In the 45 minute sortie over the Mediterranean, the journalists were familiarised with the functioning and the user-friendliness of the ATOS, which essentially is a flexible airborne integrated observation and surveillance system. Its modular and open architecture ensures that the users decide what combination of systems they want. Hence, they can have a selection of systems in each mission depending upon what they intend to do. In the last 10 years since it was first conceived, ATOS has evolved into multiple configurations, thereby facilitating its installation on a wide range of aircraft, both fixed and rotary wing.

While ATOS comprises several sub-systems, its core is the mission management system (MMS) which provides, among others things, full management of all mission phases; enhanced human-machine interface for one or more operators; command/control of the on-board sensors; real-time data collection, correlation and storage in a relational database; flight plan definition in accordance with evolving tactical situations; and digital maps and targets correlation. The other systems include Electro-Optics comprising forward looking infra red (FLIR) and TV cameras on stabilised turrets which are designed to integrate specific customer requirements. For instance, the ATR42 employed by GDF is fitted with Selex Galileo-built EOST23 turret to enable visual identification of surface targets.

Also while the radar on this particular aircraft was a Raytheon-built one, there are other combinations with Selex Galileo’s Sea Spray or Gabbiano radars. The other systems onboard include ESM (from Elettronica) designed to identify all modern radars, and communication systems from Selex Communications. However, as Giulianini insisted, in addition to its standard configuration, ATOS can be tailored to meet any operational customer requirement. The system is offered with a total logistic support (TLS) package covering ground and flight training, user manuals and maintenance. Hence, depending upon the exact nature of the role that the system would be required to perform, Selex Galileo can integrate SLAR (side looking radar) for a rapid scan of very large areas (up to 20 miles per side). According to him, this is useful for environmental surveillance to check for oil slicks and so on. SLAR can operate in conjunction with other sensors.

In addition to these, ATOS system is equipped with automatic identification system (AIS), search and rescue direction finder (SAR DF) and five (plus one) guard channel to receive beacon and radio signals. Its human-machine interface and sensor integration has been so designed that it considerably reduces the operator’s workload even while it increases his situational awareness during the mission.

Commenting on the success of the system with the GDF, Brigadier General Possemato said that today the force works in close collaboration with the coastal surveillance forces of countries like Spain and Portugal to prevent illegal migration and drug trafficking. “We also work closely with Frontex, (European Union’s border security agency) in guarding the Mediterranean.” Despite being originally designated as an armed police to check economic offences, today GDF’s area of operations extends to international waters.

Buoyed by the success of the ATOS system, Giulianini spoke of the future growth potential of the system by incorporating elements of communication intelligence (COMINT) and electronic intelligence (ELINT) in it. “This can also be the basis for the development of unmanned combat aerial vehicle,” he said.

Apart from the GDF, the system is also employed by Italian Coast Guard and the Italian Navy. However, the biggest customer outside Italy is Australia, where ATOS is the core of the Sentinel Programme being run by Cobham (on a 26-year contract to run till 2020) for the Australian customs services. Called the Surveillance Information Management (SIM) system, this is the first time that ATOS system has been employed for civil market. While the role of SIM is more or less similar to that of GDF’s, here since coastal surveillance has been outsourced to a private company, (Cobham), ATOS is required to preserve and convert all surveillance data in the form of evidence which has to be admissible in the court. A Cobham executive running the programme in Australia, who attended the ATOS-GDF felicitation, said, “When Cobham evaluated various systems to meet the Australian requirement, ATOS was the obvious choice. We have had excellent association between Cobham and Selex Galileo in the last few years often going beyond contractual obligations to ensure that all customer requirements were met.”

Clever trick this was: getting a user as well as a customer to vouch for a system on its 10th anniversary. But Selex Galileo pulled it off very well. Amid cheers, the important message that Giulianini conveyed repeatedly was that ATOS is a user-oriented system that can be adapted in whichever way the customer wanted it. There couldn’t have been a better way to say this.