According to the contract award issued on June 16, the DGA selected Safran to supply and integrate an off the shelf day / night optronic reconnaissance and identification system to meet an urgent need of the French Navy.
The contract (total value of €1.5 million) includes the following services:
– a system integration study,
– the supply of optronic systems and mast spars,
– dockside and sea trials,
– maintenance in operational condition,
– associated services including in particular training, use and maintenance documentation and spares.
The initial tender documents mentioned that: “The system should be able to identify, for example, a light zodiac-type craft at about 1500 meters in sea state 4. The system must have a laser range finder. The head of the system will be integrated into the patrol boats’ mast, on a spar to be designed and installed, and will not exceed a mass of about 35 kg. The system must be capable of tracking any target of interest detected by the patrol vessel’s radar.”
Contacted by Naval News, a DGA spokesperson explained that the systems will be fitted aboard the French Navy’s Patrouilleurs de Service Public (PSP) also known as OPV 54 class or Flamant-class. There are three vessels in the class, all based in Cherbourg, Normandie (on the English Channel).
DGA or Safran didn’t comment on the optronic system that has been selected but based on its specification, it appears that Safran’s Vigy Observer is a perfect match: It is a naval day/night stabilized observation system, it weights less than 23 kg and can detect an RHIB well beyond 1,500 meters.
Which “urgent operational need” these optronic systems will fill is unknown to us. The PSP vessels are often tasked with escort duties of Russian vessels transiting through the English Channel. However, the French Navy never publicize these transits as opposed to other NATO navies (namely the Royal Navy, Belgian Navy and Royal Netherlands Navy who almost systematically issue press release or share pictures on social media whenever a Russian Navy vessels is escorted during its transits through the North Sea and English Channel).
The “Urgent Need” may also be linked to illegal immigration: PSP vessels are tasked with assisting vessels in distress across the English Channel, including those of migrants trying to reach the English coast via RHIB. In April this year, the PSP Cormoran rescued and retrieved a small craft with 15 migrants onboard.