Euronaval 2014: Thales launches new sonar suite for small surface combatants, patrol vessels

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Euronaval 2014: Thales launches new sonar suite for small surface combatants, patrol vessels




CAPTAS-1 is the latest addition to the CAPTAS family of low-frequency active/passive sonars. Source: Thales​



Thales has expanded its sonar range to include two new compact versions for small- and medium-sized surface combatants and patrol vessels displacing more than 300 tonnes.

Launched at Euronaval in Paris, the Thales BlueWatcher hull-mounted sonar and associated CAPTAS-1 (Combined Active Passive Towed Array Sonar) have been developed specifically for navies wanting to provide their offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) with an anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capability.

"Navies now want to equip their small offshore patrol vessels with some form of ASW capability - not necessary to do the complete job of ASW that a frigate does, but to offer a deterrence capability to help manage the exclusive economic zones for which they are responsible," Thales Underwater Systems CEO Benoit Plantier said.

"This is why we decided to invest in developing new, smaller, more compact sonars, by taking technology from existing products and downsizing it; for new navies who would like some basic level of ASW capability; or for older, larger navies that want to enhance their traditional ASW capabilities with some capability on smaller ships."

Thales Underwater Systems senior sonar expert André Buhart said the new sonar suite comprising the BlueWatcher and CAPTAS-1 was developed on the understanding that, in today's market, an increasing number of navies will be equipped with ships displacing around 1,000 tonnes designed for littoral operations.

Based on the same technology as the FLASH dipping sonar for helicopters, the Bluewatcher is a 'plug and play' sonar that is easily installed under the hull of a small vessel.

"The FLASH dipping sonar has been at sea for more than 20 years, so the technology is very robust, proven at sea," Buhart said. "What we did was to make a little modification: we injected a transmitter into the middle of the receiver; and we put everything inside a cylindrical dome [700 mm in diameter and 600 mm in height] so that it fits below the surface of the ship. What is impressive is that it reduces the draught to 85 cm. So it's a very compact sonar, which is nice for the captain of the ship." The only inboard components are a single cabinet and the operator console.

BlueWatcher can operate in active and passive modes. Active mode can be used for the active detection of submarines or anti-collision/obstacle avoidance, while in passive mode the sonar is able to pick up small, fast surface craft.

The Bluewatcher can be used in conjunction with the CAPTAS-1, which is containerised to ease integration and help reduce cost.

Weighing just 9 tonnes, the lightweight, compact CAPTAS-1 is the latest addition to the CAPTAS family of low-frequency active/passive sonars. The single ceramic ring configuration uses the same technological building blocks as the CAPTAS-2 and CAPTAS-4, which are in service with several NATO countries. The four-ring CAPTAS-4 is designed for extended range underwater surveillance from specialist ASW frigates of 3,500 tonnes or above, while the two-ring CAPTAS-2 can be installed on ships down to 1,800 tonnes.

The new CAPTAS-1 has been designed for operation at speeds of up to 12 kt, and at depths down to 100 m, with a detection range claimed to be in the region of 20-30 km. To simplify ship fitting and removal, the complete CAPTAS-1 system is packaged into two enclosures: the sonar body/receive array and electrically powered towed array handling system are installed in a standard 20 ft shipping container; the winch control and electronic cabinets are stored in a 10 ft container mounted adjacently.

COMMENT
The launch of the BlueWatcher/CAPTAS-1 pairing reflects a move by Thales to carve out a position in what it sees as an emergent low-end anti-submarine warfare (ASW) market. However, it remains to be seen how mature this market is; OPVs have traditionally been used for constabulary and surveillance roles, and it is not yet known how 'interest' in low-cost ASW concepts translates into sales.

Euronaval 2014: Thales launches new sonar suite for small surface combatants, patrol vessels - IHS Jane's 360
 
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