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France’s defence procurement authority, the DGA, awarded Thales and Dassault Aviation a contract on 30 December for a new national strategic airborne intelligence-gathering programme.

The Avion de Renseignement à CHArge utile de Nouvelle Genération (ARCHANGE) platform will strengthen French signals intelligence (SIGINT capabilities). The Thales Capacité universelle de guerre électronique (CUGE – universal EW capability) system will be integrated into Dassault FALCON 8X aircraft. The contract covers the first two aircraft of three foreseen to replace the two C-160 GABRIEL aircraft currently in service with the French Air Force, from 2025.

With the continuing development of digital technologies for the battlefield of the future, the armed forces are in the process of enhancing their intelligence capabilities. Operationally, they need to manage ever more complex tactical situations in real time, deploying surveillance systems that enable the intelligence services to make effective decisions in a timely fashion.

Thales, in partnership with Dassault Aviation, the DGA and the armed forces, has developed a new generation of SIGINT technologies under several advanced study programmes and will produce all the sensors for the SIGINT payload and integrate the overall system on board the aircraft. These new technologies will enable the system to detect and analyse radar and radar signals simultaneously for the first time, in particular thanks to the company’s multi-polarisation antennas and the use of artificial intelligence technologies to automate data processing.

The information collected by the systems will be analysed by monitoring and intelligence specialists and fed into military databases. The programme also includes a ground-based training platform. The ARCHANGE programme will be conducted in line with a new government directive on defence programmes (Ministerial Instruction 1618), which places added emphasis on agile, collaborative working methods.

"The ability to anticipate developments is key to national security, and reliable intelligence is therefore a critical requirement to understand the risks and inform operational decisions. [This programme] will bring the country new intelligence capabilities by developing the successor to the Transall GABRIEL as part of Europe's defences," commented Nadim Traboulsi, ARCHANGE programme director for Thales.

France will eventually operate three ARCHANGE aircraft – of which the first two have now been contracted – to strengthen the nation’s airborne SIGINT capabilities. (Image via Thales)

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