See the I-Mast video
The Thales Integrated Mast consists of a housing that accommodates all major radars, sensors and antennas of a naval vessel. It will change the appearance of naval vessels. Gone are the dozens of antennas and sensors found on practically every flat topside surface of a modern naval vessel. The presence of all these systems, however sophisticated and advanced they individually may be, on one ship creates several problems.
The best position for a sensor is on top of the highest mast. There's only one system that can benefit from this position; all the others will be blocked to a certain extent by this mast.
All antennas, so close together will affect each other. On most naval vessels it is necessary to switch one system off before an other antenna can be used. This has been the cause of some serious incidents.
As all systems have to be separately installed on the ship, integrated and tested, they add considerably to the time, and hence the costs, required to build a naval vessel.
The Thales Integrated Mast eliminates these problems. All radars and antennas not only have a full 360° field of view; they are also developed so as to operate simultaneously without interfering each other.
The radars in the Integrated Mast are non-rotating, four-faced active phased array radars, which in itself is a major performance enhancement. As the four faces operate simultaneously, the radars achieve four times the time on target achieved by a rotating radar. The surface surveillance radar (Seastar) was developed especially for this purpose and it is capable of detecting and tracking small objects (e.g. divers' head) between the waves, contributing enormously to situational awareness in littoral environments.
All systems are installed in the Mast by Thales in Hengelo. Subsequently the Mast is tested as one system. Not before it fully complies with the customer's specifications is it transported to the shipyard. There, the Integrated Mast is simply bolted or welded to the ship, hooked up to the power supply, coolant system and data transmission and is operational in only two or three weeks time. Compared to the one year that is necessary to install, integrate and test all the separate systems, this is a huge time and money saver, for Navy as well as shipyard.
A further aspect that reduces costs is the decrease of maintenance. Not only do non-rotating radars require far less maintenance, but the little maintenance that is required can be performed in the protected, sheltered environment of the Mast, meaning that it is no longer necessary to wait for repairs until weather conditions are safe enough.
The Integrated Mast is not just one product. It is a series of Masts of various sizes, each one intended for a different class of naval vessel. Introduced in December 2007, the I-Mast 400 is the first member of the I-Mast family. This system will be installed on the Patrol Ships for the Royal Netherlands Navy that are presently being built The first one is scheduled to be operational late 2010. The I-Mast 100, introduced in September 2009, is the second member of the I-Mast family. This system is designed for smaller, corvette-sized vessels.
The type of systems in the Mast is completely up to the customer. Although the Integrated Mast for the Holland class OPVs for the Royal Netherlands Navy contains mostly Thales systems, it will be possible to use customer-furnished or third party systems in a Thales Integrated Mast.