Title: Thales Canada: Intelligent solutions for tomorrow’s armed forces

Sub-title: One of the world’s leading defence contractors is making a significant effort to build its Canadian presence.


Marcel de Picciotto, president of Thales Canada, loves to tell the story of how its parent company, became involved in the British and French navies’ aircraft carrier programs.


A modern carrier provides unparalleled capacity to project power. They cost billions, take years to build and last decades. So you’d think that when Thales Group received an invitation to participate in the projects’ pre-bid and feasibility work, which should lead to the construction of three carriers, the initial specifications they received would have been fairly detailed. But you’d be wrong.


The scanty document that Thales received, listed only the most general capabilities required. It did not even specify an aircraft carrier as the best vehicle to provide them. According to de Picciotto this suited the Thales people just fine. “Many folks in our industry talk about capabilities-based planning,” says de Picciotto. “But we deliver it. Today’s military is changing so fast that a defence contractor’s ability to provide innovative solutions is far more important than any off-the-shelf product it might sell.”


While many defence procurement specialists send RFPs detailing the color, size and number of the “buggies,” they want to order, the Thales philosophy begins by asking what they will be used for, and more importantly: taking a hard look at whether a more modern technology might be preferable.


In fact Thales’s worldwide organization, including its significant local operations, is ideally tailored to play a major role in transforming Canada’s defence forces. “Thales’ mission is to help the CF build its capabilities, by finding elements of solutions within our international group and then adapting them to produce Canadian-centered systems,” says de Picciotto.  “These could range from naval capabilities gained from working on French and Italian frigates, to Australian technology that could be useful in Canada’s LAV replacement strategy, to migrating experience gained from equipping British troops with integrated soldier systems.”


One of the world’s leading defence contractors

Although Thales Canada is known locally for its Montreal, Ottawa, Kingston, Quebec City, Halifax and Petawawa, facilities and its more than a quarter century of work with Canada’s land, sea and air forces, its parent, Thales Group, is one the world’s leading defence contractors. The company’s 60,000 employees are spread out among 50 countries and provide more than 10 billion euros worth of electronics and systems solutions for the defence, aerospace, security and services market worldwide.


But unlike many defence contractors, Thales’s organization is structured by area of expertise rather than by country. This “matrix,” style structure minimizes empire building and ensures that the best technology, --in six major areas: aerospace, air systems, land & joint systems, naval, services and homeland security, --is made available to all clients, (national security considerations permitting), rather than having pet projects being jealously guarded in regional markets.


A reliable partner: ATS, Commander, CMS, electro-optics

Thales Canada has a long and prestigious history as a key partner to Canada’s aerospace and defence establishments. Its roots go back to the early 1980s, when the army recognized the need for an updated battlefield command system.


In a pattern that has been repeated many times in many countries, Thales recommended taking a system currently in use with the French Army and modifying it for Canadian conditions. The system, which eventually became known as the Athena Tactical System (ATS), has been a staple tool for the Canadian Armed Forces for almost a quarter century.


ATS turned out to be an excellent stepping stone. During the ensuing years the company won contracts to supply electronic flight controls for Bombardier’s Dash-8 and the Global Express. These in turn led to establishment of significant civilian aerospace capabilities in Montreal.


Thales’ presence in that city was further expanded in 1999 following the group’s acquisition of Allied Signal International. The deal included a manufacturing facility that later became an international center of excellence for the production of electro-optical cameras used in night vision and other applications.  Throughout this period, Thales continued to be active in a range ofinitiatives including CMS, Griffon mother-ship, Commander, MCDV and a major modernization of the Aurora maritime patrol aircraft’s communications systems.


These successes provide Thales with an excellent starting point to build its domestic presence and to profit from the coming transformation of the Canadian Armed Forces.


Aerospace and Air Systems: Tactical UAV, Aurora, FW-SAR

One of the most important areas that Thales has been able to mesh military and civilian expertise is in two key operational groups: Aerospace and Air Systems. For example, the company’s experience in supplying Airbus with its power systems, cockpits and a range of additional functionality, provides significant synergies when it comes time to design defence related applications. “We supply anything that fits in a plane,” jokes Dave Spagnolo, the company’s vice-president and general manager.


Thales’s international capabilities once again provide a significant backbone of expertise, which have a wide range of potential uses in the CF. These include mission electronics for combat aircraft, airborne surveillance systems, air defence and even traffic management systems. Even more important, much of the technology is platform independent. That could prove to be a big advantage in helping the CF’s quest to purchase and outfit new fixed-wing search and rescue aircraft.


Another of the CF’s most urgent needs is for specialized ISR capabilities in Afghanistan, which will require the use of a tactical UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle). Thales, which last year won a $1 Billion Euro bid to deliver intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and recognition (ISTAR) via UAVs as part of the U.K.’s Watchkeeper program, is well positioned to help.


The Thales proposal involves mounting the COTS sensors and providing systems integration for the C2 and communications equipment that will be mounted on an Israeli-made ELBIT Hermes 450 platform. These platforms have seen significant action in asymmetrical warfare, in the occupied territories and are thus ideally suited for the proposed mission. The current contract may be appear small in scope, but it is regarded by participants as a test that would demonstrate its capabilities for the upcoming JUSTAS initiative.  Thales is also supplying smaller UAVs that can be used as far down as the section level. 


Land & joint systems: International capabilities: FIST, ISSP, LAV Replacement

As with the other main branches of the military, information management, one of Thales’s core competencies, is crucial to the success of today’s land forces. Armies with the best intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems, and which can integrate them rapidly with command and control structures, decision support and weapons systems, stand a good chance of prevailing on the battlefield.


The Canadian Armed Forces, through its Integrated Soldier Systems Program is also increasingly recognizing the need to bring the most modern technology right down to the individual soldier. During the coming years, the CF will increasingly look to meshing each individual soldier into the digitized battlefield, as a “man-platform,” that contributes to the overall success of the mission.


Thales, a recognized world leader in soldier technology, is positioning itself to play a key role in those changes. The company’s UK partner operation, which recently won a UK 2 billion pound contract, to equip 29,000 troops with advanced capability by 2009, provides a good model for the CF to follow. Under the Future Integrated Soldier Technology (FIST) program, these soldiers will be outfitted with modern clothing, electronic and communications equipment and weapons systems.


Naval systems: JSS, HMCCS and more

One of the areas that Thales has the greatest potential to contribute to the development of Canada’s Armed Forces will be in helping expand its naval capabilities. “DOD has several projects on the drawing board that Thales is ideally suited to play a key role in, especially the Joint Support Ships (JSS) and HMCCS programs,” says Spagnolo.


Thales’ has a long history of supporting the Canadian Navy. The company played a major role in implementing the Marine Coastal Defence Vessel (MCDV) command systems on 12 reserve vessels, which are split between Canada’s two main coasts. Thales was responsible for the design and integration of MCDV interior and exterior communications, cryptographic equipment, radar, navigation systems, mine sweeping and armaments. Thales equipment also plays a prominent role in Canada’s Victoria class submarines.


Recent changes in naval strategy since the end of the Cold War have played to Thales’ strengths. The shift in focus of naval operations to increased force projection, deployment and support in coastal waters, have resulted in a corresponding steady increase in electronics as a proportion of platform value. These trends give systems integrators a far better opportunity to take the lead in adding value to modern naval projects than the “metal benders,” which tended to be more prominent in the past.


Thales’s capabilities will come in especially handy in its bid (along with Ratheon) to handle the weapons and sensor integration on the three JSS ships that will be built during the coming decade. The two companies are part of a group headed by SNC Lavalin, which also includes Washington Marine as the Canadian shipbuilder.  Thales’ international experience, particularly its work in upgrading legacy systems, also position it as a key bidder in work to provided a Halifax Modernized Command and Controls System (HMCCS) as part of the upcoming frigate upgrade program.


Thales’s credibility as a possible HMCCS bid winner shot up last month, when the company won a major contract for a full upgrade of the firepower C2 systems for 12 of the German Navy’s F122 and F123 frigates. The work will involve replacing outdated command and control systems with high performance IT equipment and display consoles, as well as the integration of all sensors, weapons and communications systems.


Homeland security and services

When the Canadian Armed Forces issued an RFP earlier this year for a tactical UAV to help out with their operations in Afghanistan, they also made a request that would have been unheard of several years ago: they asked the provider to supply civilian technicians who could operate the unit in theatre either 12 or 24 hours a day, seven days a week.


That should not be surprising. In today’s militaries, the best structured forces are often the most flexible ones. Armed forces that can focus on core competencies and outsource less strategic functions, will be able to react quicker to changing circumstances and can scale up faster when the need occurs. They will also be cheaper to run, a key consideration in an era of tight budgets.


The upshot is that a wide variety of services, which were once performed by military personnel, --ranging from cafeterias to pilot training,-- are now routinely outsourced, and the trend is increasing. In fact Thales International now generates almost 25% of it revenue by providing services such as training and simulation, consulting and engineering facility management and IT outsourcing.


Examples range from the delivery of ammunition to the Australian Armed Forces to a recent win for of a 23 year contract for the in-air supply of refuelling services to the British Royal Air Force. And there is no doubt that as the Canadian Forces look to the future, the out-sourcing of non-core services will likely be an increasingly attractive option.


Another increasingly important skill-set that Thales brings to the table, is its strong background in security applications, ranging from Nuclear, Biological and Chemical threat expertise, security systems for governments, banks, financial institutions and transport & energy operators. Thales Group has signed numerous contracts with airports and other civil defence authorities, and with the new post 9-11 homeland security environment, demand for its services are likely to continue to grow.



As de Picciotto looks toward the future he sees both challenges and opportunities. “There has been a strong evolution in the role of Canada’s Armed Forces. As a result, their equipment, training and ways of thinking will have to evolve,” says the defence industry veteran. “That means the Canadian military will see transformations like those that took place in France and the U.K. 15 years ago. And we’d love to help.”


Corporate Snapshot


Company: Thales Canada Inc.

Canadian Operations: Marcel de Picciotto, president

Key Canadian Installations: Montreal, Ottawa, Kinston, Quebec City, Halifax, Petawawa

Canadian employees: 280

Products and services: International expertise in aerospace, air systems, land & joint systems, naval, services and homeland security, tailored for use in more than 50 countries.

Exports: Approximately XX%



Peter Diekmeyer is a Montreal based writer





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