Naval Gazing at Euronaval
Dec 14, 2016

A Global View of the Naval Military Market

Held every other year near Paris, the global military naval exhibition Euronaval celebrated its 25th anniversary with a 10% increase in exhibitor participation as compared to 2014. For one week, industry representatives and delegations from nearly 100 different countries gathered to learn about new naval technologies and listen to new concepts and threat assessments. Indeed, although the military naval market seems rather stable, the same cannot be said about the threat environment. 

At a half-day conference held by the FRS (Fondation pour la recherche stratégique) in Paris, on the eve of Euronaval 2016, DCNS’ Director of Strategy, Andreas Loewenstein, provided concluding remarks after the various panels had covered wide-ranging geographic and technological themes affecting the naval military sector.

The German-born market strategist, who joined DCNS from EADS in 2010, made a little-known comparison between the two companies in terms of size and key competences. His former employer, the multi-national Airbus Group (formerly EADS), “weighs” roughly 70 billion Euros and covers 150 key skills in aeronautics; his current employer, DCNS, is worth 3 billion Euros and includes 500 key naval competencies in its portfolio.

Clearly Loewenstein’s experience in   major industry has influenced his outlook. He is immersed in the strategies required to remain a major long-term player in an increasingly challenging market, and he explains that this goal has influenced DCNS to act precisely on two parameters: reaching a critical size and beating the competition by offering superior technological excellence.

French Naval Sector Too Fragmented
New French naval acquisition programs such as 3rd generation submarines are good news, although budgets of the French procurement arm, DGA (Direction générale de l’armement), have been limited. 

On the export front, the Australian submarine news is excellent, however, Loewenstein would like this kind of news to become less exceptional and more regular, otherwise the French naval sector may not overcome an increasingly fierce international competition. “We always had to face a competition among European nations, but fratricide battles have become deadlier as the latter are hungrier and hungrier, because of an increasingly larger number of players in the shrinking naval field: China and Russia are more competitive by a factor of three in terms of hourly rate compared to France.” The company recently lost a 30-year contract from the Pakistani naval military market to the Chinese. “South Korea and Japan, and most recently Turkey and Vietnam, are now extremely dynamic competitors”, he added.

Beyond the ideal dream of a European common bid, Loewenstein points at France’s weak industrial base and resiliency as a challenge. Comparing DCNS to a towboat having to pull or push about 600 small and medium size firms, he lamented over the fact that if demand rises, these SMEs cannot follow on a fierce export market and if demand falls, they die.  

“French naval industrial actors are far too fragmented and cannot participate to the R&D investment solely carried on by DCNS,” he noted. “And without R&D investment, forget about resiliency and a superior technological edge.”

Mastering the Current Industrial Revolution
Loewenstein believes that the French military naval sector, and DCNS in particular, are rather competitive in terms of price, constantly looking for ways to increase competitiveness on that front, in particular by using new technologies such as additive technology or virtualization. However, he believes that such an effort is far from enough, as everyone is or will be doing it in the coming years.

For him, the real challenge is to not miss the turn with the current revolutions in civilian technologies, whether digital or automation. “We need to get closer to civilian actors in order to identify, militarize and integrate these new civilian technologies. One cannot avoid it. Today, your iphone has more calculation capabilities than the combat system of a military patrol boat 15 years ago. The velocity of the current technological mutation does not allow us to think in terms of 30-year lifecycle programs. We must instead conceive our system and equipment (robotics, optronics, etc) in a modular, adaptable and incrementally upgradable manner.”

To do so, it is necessary to join forces as far as R&D investment is concerned: France – “with 1 billion Euros compared to 21 billion Euros by Google and Apple” – cannot do it alone, in order to keep ahead in crucial sectors such as:

  • Artificial intelligence;
  • Robotics;
  • Materials (stealth and resistance);
  • Telecommunications (network and bandwidth);
  • Naval architecture;
  • Energy storage;
  • Laser technology;
  • Electromagnetic catapult (EMALS for Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System);
  • Big Data (maintenance sensors, etc.);
  • Additive manufacturing (such as 3D printing of spares).

For a defence sector business strategist, there are many questions on the naval military horizon, but there is also much reason to rejoice as these new technologies transform the sector. 

Enhancing the trilateral partnership between DGA, the French Navy, and the defence industry is key to success, but fragmentation has to be overcome in order to build a “team of champions”.

In addition to internal cooperation, changes in the global market has fostered a philosophy of long lasting partnerships in order to ensure a win-win outcome – not only between friendly nations, but also among the various defence industry entities. 

Naval Sector Success 
Défense Conseil International (DCI) is one defence company that has been developing and enhancing its training activities for several decades accompanying foreign acquisitions of French equipment and delivering French armed forces know how to allied countries’ users.

With Jean-Michel Palagos and Julia Maris at the helm, DCI has been diversifying in terms of fields and geographic zones, but also its processes in the last three years. 

During Euronaval, Palagos recalled the latest new additions in the offering basket of the company: cyberdefense, military health support, ISR, unmanned vehicles. He stresses how crucial it is to adapt to next generation platforms and technologies by “supplementing with simulation, augmented reality, e-learning and serious games, while staying on course in enabling operational training”.

NAVFCO, the naval branch of DCI, is divided into three main activity sectors:

Academic training: The company attracts 18-year-olds and trains them so that “in five to seven years, they are trained naval engineers able […] to specialize in energy, propulsion or logistics,” explains Admiral Bruno Nielly, NAVFCO’s director. The company is currently training 200 cadets in its facilities.

Continuous training: the second activity provides on-going training along a Cadet’s career, mirror-imaging the classic curriculum of French naval officer. Naval warfare courses (anti-submarine warfare, electronic warfare, etc) are therefore delivered to about one hundred young foreign officers each year.

The third aspect is providing full crew training for a DCNS ship acquired by a foreign navy. “We have many examples of success stories in this area. Nine of our instructors, all former French Navy submariners, are currently in Bombay training the crew of the very first Scorpene [submarine] delivered to the Indian Navy,” says Admiral Nielly. 

One of the biggest challenges, and also successes, has been the ability of DCI to provide, in a very short period of time (about one year ending in September 2016), training on three very modern ships (1 FREMM and 2 BPCs), in spite of the fact that the knowhow currently resides solely within the French Navy. “This has only been possible thanks to the help of the French Navy and a constant and very close dialogue among us, which started barely a week after the Egyptian decision [to buy the French Mistral ships originally intended for Russia]. We trained three Egyptian crews with two teams of 40 instructors each, half DCI, half French Navy. Because of operational demands on the French Navy (whose ships would at times be deployed at both ends of the world), we had to constantly reconfigure the way we would manage the training. This [crash-course] has been a real challenge, overcoming one obstacle after the other, but we did it, fully and on time, to the amazement of the French and Egyptian Navy chiefs,” he says with obvious pride.

Global Capacity Packages
The close partnership between DCI and the French armed forces, and with other industries, lies at the heart of the specificity of the company. “The DCI / Industries / French Navy triangle is the underlying force behind these success stories,” stresses Deputy CEO Julia Maris.

Gathering strength by developing partnerships and extending the offer to better suit increasingly knowledgeable customers has indeed been the DCI motto under the Palagos-Maris leadership.

Announced at Euronaval by CEO Palagos was the signing of two new global contracts. One with Thales for undersea warfare and electronic warfare systems, and the other is with two companies – OCEA and ECA – in littoral mine warfare. “The first is to build an aluminum ship; the second, a complex mine detection and destruction system; our mission is to train crews – including, if so desired, in maintenance – both in our Saint-Mandrier-based international Military Diving Training Centre (CIF-PM) and on our ship, the Almack, which can welcome on board a crew of clearance divers. This concept is very unique and very innovative, and we are very hopeful that, by anticipating the requirements of a country wishing to acquire a full mine warfare and/or mine counter-measure package, we shall be ready to answer and deliver a global capacity package as a team,” explains Admiral Nielly, who will be in charge of this promising alliance.

The Underwater Dimension
Given the evolution of threats, ranging from traditional mines to terrorist activities, it came as no surprise that underwater requirements were a big highlight during Euronaval 2016. 

Alexis Morel, VP Underwater Systems at Thales, and Patrice Le Lourec, Director of the Autonomous Underwater Surface System (AUSS) product line, talked of the need for nations to monitor, ever more thoroughly, the littorals and deep sea areas (both above surface and at seabed level); the need to protect freedom of navigation; assets such as ships, oil and gas platforms, pipelines and so on; as well as national security in general. These imperatives have been driving more and more countries to invest in underwater capabilities.

Not everyone can afford a submarine, but many are soon going to be able to acquire the equivalent of mini-submarines that are able to fully function as autono­mous remote sensors. Indeed, Thales has just launched a brand new unmanned system, allowing naval actors to do just that, and much more.

In the company’s official media release, Pierre-Eric Pommellet, Senior VP of Defence Mission Systems at Thales, said that “with AUSS, Thales is bringing a completely new concept to the unmanned maritime systems market. We are sure that its unique set of operational capabilities will open up new horizons for civil as well as military organisations involved in maritime surveillance and protection. The launch of AUSS at Euronaval is a key milestone in a collective project that has been conducted over the last three years at the Thales site in Brest, and in partnership with 19 SMEs. It marks the coming of age of the unmanned maritime systems industry in France.” 

Thales is well known for its expertise in mine warfare, and its recent developments in robotized solutions are no exception. The company has been developing advanced technologies to transition from conventional solutions, such as dedicated maritime mine countermeasures (MMCM) vessels, to solutions based on unmanned systems. 

Pathmaster is being touted by Thales as the future direction of this sector. Flexible enough to adapt to the operational requirements of smaller naval powers as well as major navies, it is built around an expert system for reliable detection, classification and location of even the stealthiest mines. Its fully configurable system can be tailored to the needs of individual navies.

AAUS finds pipieline leak.

Pathmaster is equipped with SAMDIS, Thales’ latest-generation high-resolution synthetic aperture sonar. With its multi-aspect functionality, the SAMDIS sonar views targets from three different angles. This multi-aspect technology is capable of delivering high detection and classification performance against modern mines. Successfully evaluated by the French defence procurement agency (DGA) in 2016, it is now being used on the French-UK MMCM programme that was awarded in 2015.

Over the past three years, Thales has joined efforts with 19 small and medium size firms working in the nascent autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV) industry, as well as with French major naval company DCNS, in order to bring competences and innovation together. Five test campaigns were conducted off the coast of Brest in 2016, and the hybrid drone is ready to be tailored to customers’ requirements.

As the name implies, the innovative AUSS system can operate both underwater and at the surface. This dual combination has never been done before and is the result of a solid submarine expertise, such as dynamic buoyancy characteristics.

Its multirole and multi-sensor capabilities allow it to be tailored to various civilian and military customers. It is extremely flexible thanks to its modularity and ability to carry different types of dedicated payloads and sensors (optical, acoustic, EW, etc.).

Alexis Morel says this ability to apply and integrate a wide range of sensors opens “new doors for applicability in a wide spectrum of missions, whether MW (mine warfare), ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance), ASW (anti-submarine warfare), security and so on.” 

Another unique characteristic for enhanced adaptability for tight budgets is rooted in the fact that the system can be launched from a surface vessel, a submarine (its diameter is 21 inches) or from the shore. As Morel notes: “Until now you could not launch an unmanned system or autonomous vehicle from a harbour’s dock; you needed a boat. Because of its manoeuverability, the AUSS can operate autono­mously to secure a port access and for a very limited cost. Depending on the customer, you will need typically one to three operators to manage the system.”

Performance Challenges
There are at least three major difficulties that industry has been able to address through innovation. Not unlike the need to  compromise between agility and weight on an infantry vehicle, robotic performance balances payload, range and endurance, depending on the mission at hand. But thanks to a new and very innovative energy management system, the AUSS can actually “sleep” on the seabed between missions in order to save energy, “our goal is to work with our customers to keep improving our endurance,” says Morel. The range is key to be able to use the AUSS as a long-distance and power projection asset, so its ability to come back is of course its first key requirement.

The second major challenge is, of course the ability of any system to operate in a hostile environment – natural (rough seas, heat, high winds, visibility, etc.) or man-made (nets and other objects, interferences, etc.). 

Another major challenge is communications. Underwater autonomy is very demanding since radio communication cannot function well in such a constrained environment. It may be necessary to retrieve data in either live or recorded manner, and with the AUSS, both are possible, depending on payload. “Lots of software” is the answer thanks to Thales’ unique underwater expertise, so that the AUSS could operate at a long range and a long distance, “and in full autonomy,” concludes Patrice le Lourec.

There is always room for improvement, especially in the defence sector where a lack of innovative progress can create vulnerabilities that may potentially lead to the death of a soldier, sailor or aviator. Capability, range and endurance are key military concerns, and flexibility and dependability are where R&D can shine – progress to date has been rather impressive.  

Based in Paris, Murielle Delaporte, is the founder and editor of Opérationnels SLDS, a bilingual magazine that focuses on sustainment and logistics.
© FrontLine Defence 2016



Airbus represents 70 Billion euros, not 1Bn!