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FTI, France's future high-tech frigate

The first of five new frigates for the French Navy's FTI* programme will be delivered in 2023. With an extremely sophisticated communication system designed by Thales for a new generation of users, these medium-sized frigates are destined for the big league of naval operations around the world.

Designed to be operated by digital natives, the naval vessels of tomorrow will be highly digitised and dependent on a wide array of connected, interactive systems. Integrating these new technologies and ensuring the necessary development headroom for the future is a real challenge.

With a displacement of around 4,000 tonnes, the FTI larger than the French Navy’s corvettes, but smaller than its FREMM heavy multimission frigates, and it's a perfect example of this new breed of digitally enabled vessels. Developed for France but also for export markets, the FTI will be more affordable and easier to operate than the heavier frigates, while still benefiting from state-of-the-art electronic equipment and new technology from Thales.

Future-focused communication system

The AQUILON advanced communication system from Thales is open, secure, scalable and adaptable to customer requirements, making it the perfect choice for the FTI digital frigate. Built around a secure local IP network, this fully integrated naval communication system provides a full shipboard and external voice and data communication capability (HF, VHF, UHF and satcom).

In particular, PARTNER — the tool that manages AQUILON radio services (antenna selection and configuration, modems, radios, access rights, etc.) — will be upgraded for the FTI programme to allow easier insertion of new functionality in the decades ahead.

The FTI frigate will also benefit from the latest advances in HF communications, with integration of HF XL (or Wide Band HF) into the AQUILON system. HF XL supports higher data rates and improves communication service quality, while providing an advanced jam-resistant solution that is easier-to-implement and more resilient than earlier generations. It offers real scope for naval applications, such as ship-to-shore communications, long-distance communications between naval groups, and long-range communications for submarines and surface vessels in all circumstances.

For V/UHF communications, the FTI frigate will benefit from technological advances derived from France’s CONTACT software-defined radio programme.

It will also boast an innovative IFF (identification friend or foe) system with active four-panel fixed-array antenna as the perfect complement to the Sea Fire radar. This system will serve as a full-function, all-digital secondary radar and will offer clear operational benefits, thanks to its smart scanning modes, while ensuring full NATO interoperability to the latest Mode 5 standard.

Connected crew

The AQUILON system will also feature the new COMTICS user handset from Thales. An advanced naval smartphone, COMTICS is cybersecured by design and provides secure access to multimedia services, including web browsing and social media, if the operational situation allows. COMTICS will enable greater mobility onboard the vessel and, in turn, drive greater operational efficiency. For example, commanders can use this handheld device to monitor a helicopter launch at the other end of the vessel, while mechanics can send images of a faulty piece of equipment to a shore-based support centre.

Based on unique experience with over 50 navies around the world, Thales radiocommunication solutions combine the latest technical innovations with resilient network performance to meet all the key requirements of the future FTI medium-size frigate:

  • Integration within a naval task force (compliance with NATO standards for full interoperability), integration between frigates for cooperative engagements (HF XL, etc.) and integration with the platform (open IP architecture).
  • Connectivity: the communication system provides a tactical data transmission capability, while its architecture integrates seamlessly with the broader requirements of the frigate and its connected crew.
  • Military-grade cybersecurity: Thales radiocommunication systems and products are cybersecured by design, in line with the stringent requirements of the French defence procurement agency (DGA) and Naval Group (formerly DCNS). In addition, the system is fully redundant to meet the demands of operations at sea (combat damage, storm damage, etc.) and ensure high availability, even in the most extreme conditions.

Further reading

Thales welcomes contract award for French defence ministry’s intermediate-size frigate programme (press release, 21/04/2017)

Aquilon: naval communications for the digital age

*Frégate de Taille Intermédiaire