Thales outlines sensor enhancements for Rafale

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Thales is to offer an enhanced XF version of its Damocles targeting pod, and expects to complete flight qualification trials of the system in 2012.

To be equipped with a new daylight camera with continuous zoom, and to also deliver enhanced high-resolution infrared imagery, the Damocles XF will be capable of providing real-time video to ground troops and forward air controllers via a datalink, says Thales.

Key attributes will include improved image quality from short and medium range, and automatic image sharpening to reduce crew workload, says Pascal Jourdan, Damocles project manager for Thales Optronique. The multifunction system will be capable of providing targeting information for laser- and GPS/INS-guided weapons, and of providing tactical reconnaissance and battle damage assessment services, he adds.

"We needed to make some evolutions to the pod," says Jourdan, who expects to freeze the design of the new version late this year. The XF system will retain its weight of around 280kg (617lb), inertia and shape of the baseline Damocles pod, he says, removing the need to perform costly recertification activities.

Thales sold 10 Damocles pods to the French navy early this decade, plus 15 in 2007 to equip the French air force's F3-standard Dassault Rafale fighters. It has also sold a further 75 systems to five export customers, and Jourdan says that "it is a key requirement to be able to retrofit" in-service equipment to the XF configuration.

Meanwhile, Serge Larroque, Thales Optronique's reconnaissance product line manager, says the company's Reco NG/Areos pod will undergo final qualification with the Rafale F3 in July. The design will then be delivered to the French air force flight-test centre at Mont de Marsan air base to support concept of operations development work.

The Reco NG imagery intelligence system will be delivered with air force and navy F3-configured Rafales, with the services having ordered a combined 20 pods. The air force will be able to field the system operationally for tactical and strategic reconnaissance from early next year, says Larroque. "We are ready to be more integrated in the network, and to provide imagery on demand," he adds.

Thales has performed more than 100 qualification flights with the Reco NG using Rafale and Dassault Mirage 2000 airframes. The company is already studying potential future enhancements to the system, including the integration of multi- or hyper-spectral sensors, says Larroque.