France-based Defense Conseil International teaches French Navy 'know-how' to other countries, and is expanding to areas such as pilot training for Kuwaiti students. (Defense Conseil International)
PARIS — Defense Conseil International, a French international service firm that has long trained Navy officers for Kuwait, has logged a first for the company by training future Kuwaiti pilots as well, according to DCI Chairman Jean-Michel Palagos.
Some 30 students will learn to fly at the Salon-de-Provence air college, southern France, Palagos said of the training that began in April. Testing after the training course will determine whether the future pilots will fly fighters, transports or helicopters. Kuwait operates the F-18 fighter.
“We have a very privileged relationship with [Kuwait],” Palagos said, noting that DCI was the only Western firm to stay in Kuwait during the Iraqi occupation in the 1991 Gulf War.
The company is also training pilots from Libya on the Alphajet, intended to prepare them to fly the Mirage F1 fighters restored to flight after years in hangars.
Countries in the Middle East and Arabian Gulf are the core business for DCI, accounting for two thirds of annual sales. That reliance on the region stems from Saudi Arabia’s 1972 order for the French AMX 30 tank and a request for training and maintenance to support the armor brigades.
Delivering services, rather than just equipment, is vital, Palagos said.
“It is very important,” Palagos said. “When a country orders equipment — a tank, an aircraft, a ship — there is a responsibility to accompany that with training and maintenance.”
Training accounts for about 80 percent of DCI sales. The rest come from maintenance (15 percent) and advisory services (5 percent).
On the maintenance front, this summer the company is due to complete a refurbishment of eight P37 patrol boats for the Kuwait Navy. DCI subcontracted shipbuilder DCNS on the deal.
Kuwait also sails the US-built P27, for which the maintenance contract is expected to expire this year or next year, Palagos said.
DCI provides maintenance for the Gazelle combat helicopter in Kuwait. The company recruited staff who had served with the French Army Air Corps. The ex-Army background is key, as the personnel are adaptable in difficult conditions, with extremely hot temperatures out in the open and working in very simple hangars, Palagos said.
DCI also provides Gazelle maintenance for Qatar, and trains pilots and maintenance workers at the air academy at Doha.
The company provides maintenance for the Leclerc for the United Arab Emirates, the sole export customer of the tank.
On the core training activities, DCI has just opened talks for crew training for India on the Scorpene attack submarine. The discussions will take time and one of the concerns is the need for a high level of security training, reflecting the deadly explosion of an Indian Navy sub at the docks last August.
A training course often reflects the pick of a French weapon system but there is also a tough selection process independent of the equipment. Singapore asked DCI in the 1990s to provide training for the navigator weapon system operator for its fighter jet. After the course was completed, there followed seven years of silence until the city-state came back to France to sign a training contract. The Singapore authorities had gone to training suppliers in other countries, tested and compared them, and concluded France had provided the best, Palagos said.
“Singapore is very, very professional,” he said. Singapore flies the F-15.
For Malaysia, DCI trains pilots of an AgustaWestland light helicopter for tactical flights at night, with the French trainers at the Dax helicopter school, southwestern France. French pilots flew extensive night missions in the Libya campaign.
Those nations in southeast Asia are part of the growth market for the company, while future prospects are seen in Africa and South America.
In Africa, DCI is considering setting up a helicopter pilot and maintenance school, possibly in Gabon. Another possible project is to provide training for maritime police and anti-piracy for countries along the coast of Gulf of Guinea, where there are big oil fields and rising security risks.
In South America, there is high potential seen in Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Uruguay and perhaps Argentina. Peru recently ordered a Thales spy satellite, and there may be work to train staff on reading the imagery.
DCI launched a new cyber defense management course with a first class in February, to which 12 countries sent 26 students. The room was packed, and a next class is due in Brittany in the autumn.
For Russia, DCI is responsible for training 400 sailors at sea on the Vladivostok, the first Mistral-class helicopter carrier ordered by Moscow. That second-phase operational training is “not on the short term horizon,” Palagos said. Prime contractor DCNS handles the first phase with showing the crews technical documents, and equipment and systems while the ship is in the docks.