You Can’t Just Climb up the Mast Anymore – the Digital Transformation of Marine Warfare is Here

It used to be so straight forward. In the old days you climbed up the mast to look for enemy ships and when you found them you pursued them, blasted them with canons, rammed them, or boarded them. If you had faster and stronger ships, you usually won.

Communication was limited to shouting from ship to ship, or using flags, lights, and even musical instruments. Defense was mostly adding wood to your hull.

Well, that’s all changed. The challenges may remain the same – to find and neutralize hostile forces -- and size, speed, and power still matter. However, even if you have the biggest, most powerful ship in the sea, a cheap drone or an explosive laden speedboat can spoil your day, and the latest torpedo or ballistic missile can sink you. If you can’t see the threats coming or communicate with your comrades, you better stay ashore.

The risk is magnified by the oceans becoming the favored space for state confrontations, with ample opportunities for intimidation, provocation, or attack. Advanced missiles target ships, silent submarines stalk the deep and stealth aircraft the skies. Speedboats, drones, mines, or the latest weapon that packs a punch-- your opponents probably have it, and most likely a new and improved model. Yesterday’s pirates have become todays terrorists and rogue states; they must not be allowed to operate and hide in the high seas.

Navies are in the front lines like almost never before outside of declared war, so they must keep one wave ahead.

The new threats call for a fundamental transformation of marine warfare, and Thales, with its proven, state-of-the-art defense electronics, is revolutionizing the combat capacity of navies. It is bringing them into the digital age.

The naval domain is undergoing two revolutions: an explosion of data and the interconnection of platforms. Thales can apply its tested solutions from the civilian domain to both,” said Xavier Mesnet, Director of Strategy at Thales Defense Mission Systems.

A master of big data, artificial intelligence, connectivity, and cybersecurity, Thales is partnering with navies around the world to meet their needs. The sailors understand the threats and Thales’ engineers and programmers craft the solutions.

Thales’ robust, software-controlled Sea Fire radars, Planar Flank Array Sonars, SLAM-F mine countermeasures, and combat mission systems, as well as its life-cycle support services and advanced aerial and underwater drones give navies the edge they need in the accelerating cycle of the technological arms race.

It’s all about data. Nowadays almost everything and everyone produces it. Even far from shore it can be a tidal wave of information from sensors, ships, and weapons. Thales is using artificial intelligence to digest it all and cull the most relevant information for and from the platforms used by navies -- from ships, submarines, and aircraft, to satellites. Commanders thus have what they need to make the right decision at the decisive moment. 

Thales is also spearheading another revolution -- autonomy. Its smart sensors are no longer limited by human reaction time; they automatically adapt at lightning speed to changing circumstances. This is particularly applicable to mine warfare and drones where, while man remains in the loop, autonomy is reaching new levels. It’s all a far cry from the swashbuckling sailors of yesteryear, but a lot safer and likely more efficient.

The autonomy of the sensors and systems Thales is developing allows sailors to multiply their performance many times over, keeping a step ahead of adversaries,” emphasizes Mr. Mesnet. “It’s like in sailing competitions. Navigators no longer just steer their ships but focus on tactics, forecasting, analysis, and maintenance. The added value of man is changing.

Indeed, with its partners, Thales is developing what amounts to a system of systems, with all elements connected and fed by data from multitudinous sources, both military and civilian. It’s a new way of thinking about marine warfare. Ships are not just becoming faster and stronger, but smarter, and Thales software allows them to think and react on their own when necessary.