Thales and Dassault Aviation expect to begin work in the coming weeks on a long-planned upgrade to France’s Atlantique 2 (ATL 2) maritime patrol aircraft. The versatile patroller is supporting combat missions in Mali, providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and close-air support with Paveway II laser-guided bombs.

France modified a number of ATL 2 aircraft earlier this year to deliver GBU-12 bombs using target designators onboard French Harfang UAVs, on fighter aircraft and on the ground. In April, the French Defense Ministry listed ATL 2 modernization as a top priority in the nation’s new defense and security strategy, ahead of a forthcoming multiyear spending plan expected to be issued this summer.

“As we see in Mali, it is a useful to have some multipurpose assets,” Laurent Collet-Billon, head of French procurement agency DGA, says of the ATL 2. “It is like a Swiss [army] knife.”

The French navy maintains 22 ATL 2s, 18 of which are slated to get a complete overhaul, with new radar, antisubmarine systems, sonars, sonobuoys and optical systems. Plans to upgrade the ATL 2 fleet have been in the works for more than four years but have been stalled due in part to a shortage of funding. The goal of the upgrade, which Thales expects to be centered on its Amascos maritime mission system, is to extend service life past 2030.

Thales says Amascos is fully operational, having matured since the company agreed in 2004 to supply Turkey with new maritime surveillance and patrol aircraft under the Meltem II program. The program has suffered a series of delays, though under the agreement Thales has delivered three modified CASA CN-235 transport aircraft to the Turkish Coast Guard for maritime surveillance. Another six aircraft modified for maritime patrol missions are in final qualification for the Turkish navy, with deliveries to begin in the second half of this year through early 2014.

“We had delivered an initial version nearly one year ago, so we are now upgrading the final version,” says Pierre-Eric Pommellet, senior vice president of defense mission systems at Thales. “The aircraft will have complete capacity, including the combat systems and weapons systems, torpedoes, and a very good radar.”

Under a separate program called Meltem III, Thales is fitting Amascos for 10 ATR-72 aircraft to be delivered by prime contractor Alenia.

Pommellet says the Amascos suite offers a range of flexibility between simple, one-console systems and more complex ones.

“It’s a scalable solution for a growing market,” he says. “Countries need to patrol their seasides, protect against submarines and train their fleets to be more efficient against maritime patrol.”