The French Navy may need up to $100 million of electronic warfare equipment to equip maritime surveillance and patrol aircraft over the coming decade.
Sharing its name with Fleetwood Mac’s only number one hit in the British hit parade, the French Navy plans to procure seven new Albatross maritime surveillance planes derived from the Dassault’s Falcon-2000LXS series business jet. The Marine Nationale (French Navy) currently flies five Falcon-20/200 and eight Falcon-50M maritime surveillance aircraft.
The Falcon-2000LXS is expected to replace both types. Media reports note that the quantity of aircraft ordered by the French Navy could eventually rise to twelve. The Falcon-200s are expected to be retired in 2025 with the Falcon-50Ms following four years later.
The new aircraft will carry the Thales Searchmaster X-band (8.5 gigahertz/GHz to 10.68GHz) airborne surveillance radar and Safran Euroflir optronics turret. Curiously, no mention appears to have been made regarding whether the aircraft will be outfitted with an Electronic Support Measure (ESM).
The addition of an Automatic Identification System (AIS) interrogator would allow the aircraft to detect emissions from AIS transponders. AIS is mandated by the International Maritime Organisation for all vessels displacing over 300 gross tonnes. AIS transmissions use frequencies of 161.975 megahertz/MHz to 162.025MHz providing details of a vessel’s identity and voyage.
An ESM would enable the aircraft to gather a more detailed maritime picture by providing additional vessel identity or type details based on the characteristics of those vessels’ radar transmissions. An ESM detecting Very/Ultra High Frequency communications signals across wavebands of 30MHz to three gigahertz would also allow traffic to be located and potentially identified using vessel communications transmissions.
This is a particularly important capability regarding the aircraft’s search and rescue remit. For example, people traffickers operating in the Mediterranean are known to use commercial satellite phones. Using an ESM to monitor networks like Thuraya (1.525GHz to 1.661GHz) which sources have told Armada is routinely used by people smugglers can often provide the first indication that a vessel carrying refugees maybe in distress.
Whether the Albatrosses will have an ESM is currently unknown. Armada inquiries to Dassault were directed to the French Navy. Assuming the aircraft will accommodate this apparatus, acquisitions of an ESM to equip each jet could be worth at least $15.4 million should ESMs be fitted across the initial fleet of seven aircraft. This could increase to $26.4 million if the anticipated order of twelve aircraft goes ahead.
Further down the road, electronic warfare suppliers could benefit from additional ESM orders via the Franco-German Future Maritime Patrol Aircraft (FPMA) initiative. This platform will replace the existing Breguet/Dassault ATL-2 Atlantique maritime patrol aircraft in Marine Nationale service of which the navy operates 22.
Assuming the navy buys a fleet of circa 15 FPMAs to replace the ATL-2 fleet, a procurement of $33 million worth of ESM equipment could follow to furnish these aircraft. This could be on top of almost $50 million being spent on Integrated Self-Protection Systems (ISDSs) to equip these planes.
It is doubtful whether the Albatrosses would also be equipped with an ISDS. They are unlikely to be deployed in heavily contested airspace and instead support homeland security and low intensity operations, as do their predecessors. Either way, EW suppliers could be looking at equipment requirements worth between $98.4 million to $109.4 million over the coming decade.