Thales has introduced its new Searchmaster airborne multirole surveillance radar, which will be supplied to the French navy for its Atlantique 2 (ATL2) maritime patrol aircraft upgrade programme.

The active electronically scanned array radar will be integrated into 15 of the Dassault-built aircraft. French defence procurement agency DGA announced the upgrade programme in October 2013, with the aim of extending the life of the aircraft out to the 2030s.

“The surveillance radar is part of the upgrade package,” armament chief engineer Patrick Aufort, manager officer for mission aircraft at the DGA, said during the launch at the Euronaval exhibition in Paris. “The French navy needs to improve the detection of small targets in high sea states and its coastal surveillance.”

Thales Searchmaster radar - Beth

Flightglobal/Beth Stevenson

France requires the radome for the ATL2 upgrade have the same form factor as the previous mechanical radar used on the aircraft, as well as having the ability to carry out multiple roles.

“Thales was the only one to meet our goal,” Aufort says. In addition to the radar, the ATL2 upgrade also includes an electro-optic modification and computer and console modernisation.

Aufort adds that the development of the Searchmaster benefits from research studies funded partly by the DGA and partly by Thales: “The DGA is really convinced that Searchmaster demonstrates that research between the DGA and industry shows that studies can become real and relevant equipment.”

Flight testing is expected to begin in 2016, with deliveries in 2018. The International Traffic in Arms Regulations-free radar will be available for export deliveries in 2017.

Dassault Atlantique 2

Alex Paringaux

The “5-in-1” X-band radar provides capabilities in five key areas: anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, maritime surveillance, ground surveillance and mapping and tactical air support. The technology derives from that developed for the Dassault Rafale combat fighter.

The Searchmaster has a 360˚ view and a 200nm (370km) range. It can also be used on unmanned air vehicles, which Pierrick Lerey, director of strategy, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance at Thales, says the company is actively pursuing – in particular medium altitude, long-endurance systems.

“We are already having discussions with UAS providers,” Lerey says. “We can see this flying on a [Elbit Sytems] Hermes 900, for example.”

The radar would also be suited to lighter-than-air systems, he adds. The company hopes to announce further contracts for manned or unmanned aircraft by the end of this year.