In the near future, a French Navy FDI-class frigate (Defence and Intervention Frigate) is patrolling in the Red Sea. The warship is part of an international coalition force on a mission to protect maritime traffic from an upsurge in piracy in the region.
The FDI frigate is a formidable weapon against all types of air, surface and subsurface threats. It’s also a showcase of innovation and a marvel of modern technology.
The vessel is bristling with state-of-the-art systems, among them the TSA 6000 IFF interrogator. Like the new Sea Fire radar from Thales, the TSA 6000 interrogator with its fixed flat-panel antennas is a prime illustration of the frigate’s innovative edge.
With its electronic scanning (e-scan) technology, the TSA 6000 helps to quickly identify threats concealed in dense air and maritime traffic by identifying all the planes and ships in the areas and determining their country of origin, position, altitude and heading.
Smaller, lighter and more efficient
Petty officer Amelia is at the console of the detector station, where she’s monitoring the local tactical situation. This is where all the information gathered by the vessel ’systems converges: IFF,surveillance radar, tactical data link
For a crewmember used to rotating IFF antennas coupled with radar, the new TSA 6000 system is a revolution:
- The interrogator provides 360° coverage around the vessel, with no trade-off in range capabilities, thanks to its four flat antenna panels. The panel layout is designed to ensure that the ship’s mast and other topside infrastructure doesn’t obstruct signal reception or cause any masking effect.
- E-scan technology is much faster and more agile, taking just milliseconds, rather than seconds with a rotating antenna to point a target. This means it can identify threats extremely quickly, then track them anywhere and at any time. This level of agility makes the system much better suited to the short identification times imposed by the latest threats.
- More reliable: The duplication of system elements provides potential redundancy and helps ensure permanent system availability.
- More efficient: To keep the transceivers as close as possible to the antenna, they are housed on the back of each panel. Unlike rotating antennas in the past, with their long connecting Radio Frequency cables, the new equipment minimises signal loss.
Commercial and military aircraft are sharing the airspace above the vessel. To communicate with the commercial aircraft, the TSA 6000 system uses IFF Modes A, C or S.
Modes 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 are used to identify military planes as ‘Friend’. Indeed, the TSA 6000 system was designed from the outset to support Mode 5, which all NATO forces and allies are required to use from 2020.
This morning, Amelia is inspecting the antenna panels. Here again, her task is easier because the panels are fixed, so there are no rotating mechanical parts, which are less reliable and subject to rapid wear. Fixed panels therefore require less maintenance. And since an IFF panel is independent from the radar system, unlike rotating IFF antennas, maintenance can be performed from inside the mast, without affecting the radar or interrupting the operation of the other three IFF panels, thereby ensuring greater availability.
In addition, the panels are connected to the IFF processing station via a single Ethernet cable, which is simpler to install than a radio cable.
From an integration perspective, the TSA 6000 offers a host of benefits:
- Light and compact design, especially compared with non-rotating cylindrical array antennas
- Easy positioning and installation to achieve 360° coverage
- Installed independently from the primary radar antenna
- Perfectly suited to modern integrated mast structures
- Ethernet connectivity, which is easier to implement than a radio cable
Back at her screen, Amelia is carefully studying the data gathered by the TSA 6000 IFF interrogator. It has been a busy watch, with a lot of commercial and military traffic in the airspace around the frigate. As Amelia hands over, she’s pleased to report that no incidents have been raised. She’s responsible for identifying threats as quickly as possible, but also, even more importantly, for verifying that the IFF data (nationality, aircraft type, etc.) correlates with the information provided by the surveillance radar (speed, heading). If there’s a mismatch, she would need to reclassify the radar track and escalate the alert to fleet level. But Amelia knows she can count on the TSA 6000 from Thales to efficiently locate, identify and help respond to any threat.
The TSA 6000 system will be installed on the French Navy’s future FDI defence and intervention frigates, with the lead ship due to be commissioned in 2023. Five systems will be delivered for shipboard integration from 2021.