During the three-month long deployment of the FREMM frigate Aquitaine, the implementation crew for the NH90 helicopter from 33F Squadron had an opportunity to experience the operational capabilities of the FLASH SONICS system.
The FLASH system (Folding Light Acoustic System for Helicopters) is an active low-frequency airborne sonar that has been requested by the French Defence Procurement Agency (DGA) for the French Navy’s new anti-submarine warfare helicopters to detect and track opposing force submarines. The key benefits of this sonar include long-range detection with broad sector coverage and low false alarm rates in open ocean as well as littoral waters. Associated with an active and passive sonobuoy processing system, FLASH SONICS provides an unparalleled airborne anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capability and is designed for easy integration on board helicopters.
This first long-term mission for a FREMM was an opportunity for French Navy crews to experience first-hand the detection ranges and processing capacities of FLASH SONICS. The NH90 helicopter’s ASW capabilities complement and extend those of the frigate’s Captas-4 towed array sonar and UMS 4110 hull-mounted sonar, which are also supplied by Thales. Lieutenant Commander Jérôme Dubois, who commanded the Caiman detachment during this long deployment, stated: “As well as delivering exceptional performance, the FLASH SONICS system has significantly raised the bar in terms of human-system interface technology and operational data processing.”
The FLASH sonar family: recognised as a global benchmark
The resounding success of the FLASH sonar family has made Thales a world leader in airborne sonar technology. More than 200 of these new-generation sonars have been ordered to date, and the same core system equips the US Navy’s Seahawk, the UK Royal Navy’s Merlin EH101 and the Super Pumas in service with the United Arab Emirates Navy. The Norwegian Navy will soon take delivery of its FLASH SONICS system, while Sweden has selected the FLASH-S, a special version optimised for operations in the Baltic Sea.
COMPACT FLASH, a version developed for lighter helicopters, has also met with initial success in export markets. Thales has set up a full-rate production facility in Brest, Brittany, to manufacture the FLASH systems, and further investments are underway to expand production capacity by 30%. Thales relies on numerous industrial subcontractors in France to meet the high rates of production required.