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The media coverage of recent tensions in the Mediterranean is a clear reminder of the extent to which the seas and oceans are still a unique place where countries can challenge their ambitions. The waters are far from calm – in fact, they are often the backdrop for provocation and intimidation, with an ever-increasing risk of high-intensity conflict ensuing.

More than ever, the maritime space is becoming a key factor for state sovereignty,” says Vice-Admiral Eric Chaperon, Naval Defence advisor at Thales.

“Naval powers both large and small are devoting considerable financial resources to their military fleets, in order to strengthen their maritime sovereignty and to develop their ability to operate at sea in a context that, over the past few years, has seen threats evolve at a remarkable rate,” he says. 

The evolution has been dramatic. We are seeing the emergence of hypersonic missiles that can fly at nine times the speed of sound, with a range of 1,000 km, and hypervelocity torpedoes capable of travelling huge distances at speeds of more than 200 knots1 – four times the maximum speed of an advanced conventional torpedo.

These new weapons are so fast – and their seekers so advanced – that current warships struggle to deal with them. As for platforms, stealth is the watchword: aircraft, surface vessels and submarines are ever more discreet, and are harder and harder to detect with radar or sonar. Drones, be they in the air, on the surface or underwater, are another challenging threat, particularly when deployed in swarms. 

In addition, the electromagnetic environment is becoming more congested and harder to manage, especially close to coastlines (5G, IoT, etc.). Jammers are used frequently, and cyberattacks are a major threat to communications and command systems. 

Maintaining information superiority

In such complex surroundings, it is vital to have information superiority – in other words, a comprehensive understanding of the maritime and tactical situation across as broad an area as possible.

Maintaining the upper hand in naval combat today can be a question of seconds. With missiles that fly at more than 3 km a second, reaction times are infinitesimally short — under 10 seconds, compared with 30–60 seconds before.

Eric Chaperon explains: “The question that navies and countries have to answers is this: how can the maritime space be controlled in such a complex environment, and in the face of threats that are as diverse as they are sophisticated?”

The answer lies in the use of new technologies. Once they have been adapted to the constraints of the most critical operations connectivity, artificial intelligence, big data and cybersecurity are at the heart of the challenges that naval forces must manage: collecting, analysing, exchanging and securing information and communication in the shortest possible time.

Thales is one of the rare industry players to master both the major technological pillars at the heart of digital transformation and a broad range of sensors (including radar, sonar and electronic warfare systems), across all areas of conflict. Thanks to its presence in over 60 countries, and partnerships with more than 50 navies, the company has been able to develop close relationships with its customers, and a perfect understanding of their needs.

These wide-ranging skills and know-how have enabled Thales to develop a comprehensive offering that is perfectly suited to navies’ needs, based on innovative technological solutions, products and services (such as simulation, training and fleet management). This also allows the company to help its customers progress in their quest to counter emerging threats.

Eric Chaperon concludes: “Adapting existing systems and equipment is a vital short- and mid-term response. However, in the long term, the answer will be found in collaborative combat, which is the only way to deal with this new reality.”