The French MoD announced the launch of full-scale development for the SNLE 3G programme, to build France’s next generation of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBN) on 19 February. Simultaneously, Thales has been contracted for development of a complete sonar suite for the programme.

Thales will provide new-generation flank arrays and bow-mounted sonars, a towed linear array based on optical technology (ALRO), and all the other equipment making up the sonar suite (intercept arrays, echo-sounders, underwater telephones). The size of the arrays and the frequency bands they use will deliver superior performance in terms of 3D (azimuth, elevation, range) detection precision. The technological innovations planned for the various sonars will lead to order-of-magnitude increases in data volumes compared to current systems, which will require the use of artificial intelligence and big data algorithms, according to the company.

The Analyse, Localisation, Identification, Classification Intégrées et Alertes (ALICIA) sensor data processing system, with a user interface designed to handle the diversity and volume of available data, will optimise operator workload and provide decision support. The new sonar suite will be deployed incrementally, with the first technological building blocks and system versions due to be installed on second-generation SSBNs (SNLE 2G) from 2025, and on the third-generation submarines (SNLE 3G) from 2035.

"Thales teams have been especially focused on the SNLE 3G project to ensure that it benefits from our very best sonar innovations, which have been taking shape over the last five years as part of nearly 50 years of consistent investments in sovereign R&D to guarantee the invulnerability of France's SSBNs. New sovereign sonar array, processing and big data technologies will deliver unparalleled performance for the third-generation SSBNs and will also be of benefit to the modernised TRIOMPHANT-class second-generation SSBNs,” commented Alexis Morel, VP, Underwater Systems.

Advanced technology and systems integration will bring new levels of capability to France’s future strategic deterrent. (Image via Thales)

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