Rafale R&D: A Dassault Rafale performs Nov. 18 at the Dubai Airshow. French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said last week that a research-and-development deal, part of a pending upgrade to the Rafale, will be decided soon. (KARIM SAHIB/AFP)
PARIS — A research and development deal is due soon as part of an announced upgrade of the Rafale fighter, including a new-generation laser targeting pod, Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Nov. 21.
“Development of the new F3-R standard for the Rafale, which will notably carry a new-generation laser targeting pod — that will be decided in the next few days,” Le Drian said.
Le Drian was speaking at the Innovation Forum, a technology showcase held by the procurement arm Direction Générale de l’Armement (DGA) at the elite École Polytechnique.
The DGA signed with Thales at the end of December a €55 million (US $74 million) contract for derisking work on a new-generation laser targeting pod. The electronics company supplies the Damocles infrared pod that fits on the Rafale and Mirage 2000D.
A laser pod, due to be shipped in five years, would boost French attractiveness in military markets, the DGA said in a January statement on the derisking contract.
The current infrared-based pod is seen as lacking competitiveness with US company Lockheed Martin’s Sniper and Israeli Rafael’s Litening targeting kit.
The government plans a major R&D effort for programs set out in the 2014-19 multiyear budget law, Le Drian said.
Those other programs include the Scorpion project for modernizing Army kit, an underwater drone to replace the Navy’s minehunter ships, Musis spy satellite to replace the Helios 2 system, and cooperation on the Italian Cosmo-Skymed and German SAR Lupe satellite programs.
The total budget for research and technology (R&T) and R&D for 2014 is €3.6 billion, Le Drian said.
“Innovation in defense is more than ever a determining factor for our place on the world scene,” he said. “We have drawn all the financial conclusions.”
Laurent Collet-Billon, head of the DGA, described as “our war horse,” is working to speed up the process from idea to producer, to deliver an operational gain for the armed forces and economic plus for industry, Le Drian said.
Collet-Billon said speeding the innovation process in industry would create value and jobs, contribute to national wealth and raise morale, which is badly needed.
Efforts must be doubled at the national level to promote exports and technology transfer, he said.
The budget for the DGA’s rapid program for funding R&T projects by small and medium-sized companies was €40 million this year, rising to €45 million in 2014 and €50 million in 2015, Le Drian told journalists. That compares with €10 million in 2009, a DGA spokesman said.
The Innovation Forum is a showcase for small and medium-sized companies funded directly or indirectly by the DGA and working on high-technology projects open for use in military and civilian sectors.
The Polytechnique is in an area intended as a cluster of high-tech businesses and university labs.
With the defense budget under severe pressure, equipment programs have been delayed but funding for technology research is seen as needed to preserve future capability. ■