In service since 1999, the MTBA airbase transmission network is a key component of France's civil and military airspace security and surveillance capability, which is the responsibility of the French Air Force. In 2018, MTBA is undergoing a transformation and preparing to serve a new generation of users.

These four letters — MTBA for Moyens de Transmissions des Bases Aériennes or (airbase transmission network in French)— reflect a long history of collaboration between the Air Force and Thales. “Back in 1997, France’s defence procurement agency (DGA) announced plans to tie together all general-use and operational telephony systems for Air Force personnel into a single system delivering a cohesive set of services with guaranteed availability,” says the current programme manager.

IP-based distributed architecture

The original system used a point-to-point architecture and automatic switches, with security handled locally by encryption devices. MTBA was first upgraded in 2012, when the automatic switches were networked using IP technology.

This distributed architecture called for more advanced security to ensure that the data carried by the system couldn’t be accessed by users of other networks.

The complexity of this upgrade called for a major collaborative effort by the members of the MTBA "family" — the DGA, the DIRISI (the defence ministry’s joint infrastructure networks and information systems agency), the Air Force and Thales.

New lease of life to 2023

Building on this long-standing trust, the DGA awarded Thales a further contract in 2017 for a complete transformation of the system.

Under this new contract, MTBA’s service life will be extended to the end of 2023, with a progressively greater focus on the Air Force’s air traffic control missions and preparation for the arrival of new military radio and radar systems. It calls for a host of upgrades, including a new national-level supervision system, which is virtualised at a secure datacentre, with modular building blocks for automated administration and network management.

“These building blocks are especially strategic because we’re constantly adding new layers of security to the system to keep pace with evolving threats, without affecting continuity of service,” says the product line manager.

The new system called MTBA-CA* is designed to withstand cyberattacks. It complies with European civil air traffic control standards and has communication gateways to ensure interoperability with NATO military air traffic control.

Technological and operational support

The DIRISI is highly satisfied with the robust performance of the current system, but expects MTBA-CA to not only deliver the requisite operational functionality, but also to meet its extremely stringent requirements in terms of system availability, reliability, usability and scalability.

 

With exceptionally sophisticated technological solutions in place to counter the growing number and evolving nature of threats, the DIRISI and the Air Force are able to maintain a permanent security posture and to think smarter and act faster at every decisive moment.

Operationally, users will benefit from a new system to help them perform their critical missions, with the very latest tools and an especially intuitive human-machine interface. This vital service life extension naturally reflects the kind of environment and tools they’re used to in age of the smartphone!

*MTBA-Contrôle Aérien (air traffic control)