Thales Hengelo triples production

In the coming years, many more radars and other systems will roll off the well-known belt in Hengelo than in recent years. At the same time, the company is working to improve drone detection radars and share radar data between ships, as revealed during a press tour for naval journalists.

An illustration of the German frigate F126. Among other things, Thales supplies APAR Block 2 and the Tacticos software for the command center. (Image: Women)

Thales’ radar production hall is full. A large NS100 radar under construction is right next to the gangway, it is one of five radars for the upcoming British Type 31 frigates. Diagonally opposite, one of the twelve NS50 radars is being built for the Belgian and Dutch mine countermeasures. On the other hand, work is being done on a series of STIR target indicating radars, painted dark grey. On the other side are the biggest radars: Two of the latest SMART-L radars are under construction for quick delivery to a future customer. And somewhere in between is the new APAR Block 2 under construction for the German F126 frigates being built under Damen’s management.

In another building, Tactico’s consoles for the first Type 31 frigate are being finished. The factory tests are carried out shortly in the customer’s presence. The F126 frigates will also receive Tacticos. This is even the biggest project in Hengelo because Thales also has to integrate all sensors, weapons and other equipment in Tacticos. In addition, many systems must be delivered for six platforms, namely four ships and two trainers on land.

File photo of the Thales site in Hengelo. (Photo: Thales)

A little further ahead, even more is under construction; not a new radar, but a completely new building where even more systems can be produced. And it will have to, because Thales’ order book is bursting at the seams.

Not so long ago, the tenor in Hengelo was different, and Thales was diligently looking for new contracts. But a number of successful products such as Tacticos, which have been running smoothly for years and the new NS radar family, sometimes in combination with winning tenders from Damen, other times together with Babcock or Naval Group, resulted in new orders. Almost all agreements from before the Ukrainian-Russian war.

Growth is going so fast that Thales also has to expand the workforce enormously.
The number of engineers grew from 400 in 2016 to 1,000 now, Geert van der Molen, Vice President of Sales at Thales Nederland, tells the international marine press. This means that more than 600 engineers have been added, because there was also a whole group that retired.

But it wasn’t just about engineers. Two years ago, the company employed a total of 400 new employees compared to 450 last year. However, there is still a shortage of staff.

Because Thales also still faces challenges. Van der Molen mentions three: lack of personnel, worldwide shortage of components and inflation.

In addition, Thales expects a contract for the new ASW frigates this year. Since Damen is the main contractor, DMO first signs a contract with Damen and then follows the contract with Thales for, among other things, the AWWS (Above Water Warfare System, which is also under development for the F126). This is a very large program for both Thales and the Defense Materiel Organization (DMO).

Forbin and DeRuyter
The French frigate FS Forbin (Horizon class) left with, sister ship to De Zeven Provincin, Zr.Ms. DeRuyter. (Photo: Defence)

In the meantime, we are working hard on new applications and improvements.

One of them has to do with the Plot Level Data Exchange and Fusion (PLDEF) program. A French Navy and Defense Materiel Organization (DMO) program involving Thales and TNO was first tested in an operational environment in 2021 during exercise Formidable Shield.

A French and Dutch frigate successfully shared plot-level radar data. Data from a radar has been shared for decades via Link 11, for example, but these are just the labels that computers or people have attached to a switch. Now the radar data itself is split and combined.

It did not happen directly between the ships, explains Rogier Noorland from Thales. The radar data was sent to the other ship via so-called battle labs in the Netherlands and France. “It was now the easiest way to get permission to exchange secret data between a French and a Dutch ship,” says Noorland.

The result, Noorland says, is a more accurate track with more updates, better continuity (multiple radars looking at the same target, so if one radar briefly loses its target, there’s no lost track). It is also more difficult to block multiple radars at the same time, so there is less chance of problems even in a noisy environment. If the track is of high quality and continuously updated, it can also be launched. That is the next step, says Noorland.

Another plan is to test PLDEF with supersonic targets.

Since 2021, a tender has been running within the European Defense Fund, linked to PLDEF, called Naval Collaborative Surveillance. Thales is also participating in this tender and halfway through this year it will be announced which consortium will be allowed to proceed with this.

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Another example is the test that took place a few weeks ago with the land variant of the NS200 radar, the Groundmaster 200 (GM200). This radar detected a “military drone” flying north of the Wadden Islands. The radar image shown to the guests was filled with birds and windmills. But the radar (and especially the software) managed to pick out the drone from the North Dutch coast, says Marco Strijker. It is difficult because birds are very similar to drones. These can be filtered out, but advanced processing is required to distinguish between drones and birds.

SMART-L MM/N (also called SMART-L ELR), recognizable on the blocks instead of stripes from the old SMART-L, after delivery in Den Helder. (Photo: Defence)

At the other end of the spectrum is the SMART-L MM/N, which can track very fast targets such as satellites reaching speeds of 8,000 kilometers per second (Mach 24) and the fastest ballistic missiles (7,000 km/s).

This radar will be deployed again in ballistic missile defense mode next spring in May for the BMD exercise Formidable Shield 2023. During the press tour visit to the navy in Den Helder, understood that Zr.Ms. Trump will participate in this exercise.

Despite these successes, new SMART-L MM/N commands are still pending. To date, the naval version has only been sold to the Dutch Navy. Germany is known for having the German radar manufacturer Hensoldt develop its own BMD radar to replace their old SMART-L. Denmark was previously interested in AEGIS to replace their current SMART-L at Iver Huitfeldt. Thales has not said anything about this, but rather understood that the Danish Navy has rejected that plan because of the high costs. How far is not yet known.

Nevertheless, Thales managed to report a SMART-L related task. Italy, France and Great Britain have signed a contract with Thales for the maintenance and support of the S1850M radars. This radar is a slightly modified version of SMART-L and is installed on various naval vessels of the above countries.

Jamie Author: Jaime Karremann
Jaime is the founder of and has written more than 1,500 articles on various naval topics. In 2017, he published his non-fiction book In the deepest secret from and later submarine thrillers Killer whale. Before Jaime began working full-time with this site, he spent over 12 years in the Navy, mostly in a civilian role. Jaime studied communication in Groningen.

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