French investments in defense research showcase advanced technology development
France's defense equipment agency, DGA, pumps €700 million ($875 million) a year into research and technology (R&T), an investment that aims to lay the groundwork for future capabilities while maintaining industrial independence in key technological areas.
Through these investments, DGA seeks to organize industry around R&T projects and promote defense exports in ways industry does not—or cannot—do on its own. By quantifying the value added to specific R&T programs, DGA demonstrates it is more than a transfer agent between government defense spending and French industry.
One recent example is DGA's investment in developing a lighter-weight, more cost-efficient version of theengine that powers the air force and naval versions of France's multirole fighter.
Keen to reduce total cost of ownership of the aircraft, DGA tapped M88 contractorto initiate the engine's third major redesign. Known as the M88-4E, it eventually will replace the M88-2, Snecma's second upgrade, which aimed to reduce maintenance costs by extending time between inspections of key components, such as the compressor and turbine.
Offering a low-emission combustor, single-crystal turbine blades and powder metallurgy disks, the M88-2 is designed to reduce Rafale's electromagnetic and infrared signature. Incorporating a modular architecture, the engine can be quickly returned to service after maintenance as modules can be removed for repair or overhaul without grounding the aircraft. The M88-4E will further reduce the aircraft's fuel consumption and augment the lifespan of critical engine parts—in particular the core and afterburner— reducing fuel burn by 2-4%.
DGA awarded Snecma a contract in January 2008 for 16 upgraded M88-2 engines, spare parts and repair services. The first ground test of the improved powerplant was performed in September 2009, with a first flight test in March 2010. The agency also invested €100 million in the project's industrial ecosystem through Snecma.
“The objective was to improve the overall cost of ownership and maintainability of the Rafale engine,” DGA says. “Today, there is an anticipated gain in cost reduction of 5% and the life of the turbine blades has been increased by more than 50%.”
In the area of advanced radar, DGA helped fund development of critical components in an effort to sustain core industrial skills and remain competitive in the global market.
“Europe's combat aircraft sector must shelter itself from the threat of embargoes on critical components,” the agency says. “To remain competitive, both nationally and in terms of exports, the mastery of these new components of high technology becomes vital.
The objective was to put in place an industrial landscape for precision radar development while understanding and perfecting the technologies that go into active antenna components. Aimed at developing an active, electronically scanned array (AESA) radar for use on, Rafale and other advanced combat aircraft, the Airborne Multirole Solid-state Active-array Radar (Amsar) was funded by Germany, France and the U.K., and run by , Selex Galileo and .
For France, the project also sought to balance integration of the radars into Rafale while maintaining the pace of production to coincide with planned export projects.
Little more than a decade ago, France was at risk of losing its position in aerial surveillance radar. Concerned that the industrial stakes were considerable, DGA began a modular mobile multifunction radar (M3R) demonstrator program to restore French competitiveness for a large-area active radar antenna and to pave the way for future anti-missile and air-defense projects.
Developed by Thales andSystems, the 3-D long-range air-defense radar, known as the Ground Master 400 (GM400), is designed to protect key assets for forces deployed on remote operations. Capable of detecting targets at low, medium and high altitudes with an unprecedented level of availability and mobility, the radar can spot a fighter aircraft at 450 km (280 mi.) and cruise missiles or small aircraft at 250 km.
France is in the process of deploying the Thales/Raytheon-built GM400 at Europe's spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, and to date 32 have been ordered for export.
DGA is also investing in active antennas and ground stations for satellite communications. The aim was to demonstrate that a moving ground vehicle could communicate by satellite on all types of terrain. Following two demonstrations in 2008, the capability was integrated on French army vehicles in 2009 and deployed to Afghanistan in 2010.