4D and Fire control capabilities are true unique features of NS50
According to Thales, the NS50 provides for the first time a complete and superior level of self-protection capability against air and surface threats for this category of high value MCM vessels. A strategic choice for small to medium vessels, the NS50 offers dual functions between air and surface surveillance and fire control.
Contacted by Naval News, Commander Bultot, Project Leader of the BE-NL rMCM program said :
The Belgian and Royal Netherlands Navy are very pleased with the acquisition of the NS50 Radar. This advanced full 4D radar will provide the necessary features to our rMCM vessels to be able to perform their tasks in complex environments. The radar has very valuable features such as extended detection ranges, full aerial compilation picture for tracking our legacy UAV and other targets, excellent stabilization features, …
Pauline Clausard Leblais , Sales Manager for MCMV at Thales said during a phone interview:
This is an important contract for Thales because it gives us the opportunity to establish the NS50 in a market segment today which includes 2D radars exclusively. So we are happy with this contract award. We are very active on this market segment and of course we have several customers showing a great interest in the NS50.
Hugo Anbeek, NS50 product manager at Thales added:
“I think there is a very strong interest in the NS50 since we launched it at Euronaval 2018. We are pursuing several opportunities at this moment .”
Delivery of the first radar is planned for 2023 and while the last one is expected to be handed over to the customer before 2033, the contract spanning over a period of 10 years.
“We are currently in the final stage of the NS50 development. During this phase, we developed, produced and tested NS50 elements. The NS50 today has passed successfully all the major engineering design validation stages and we are now preparing for the series production of the radar” added Pauline Clausard Leblais.
The initial NS50 radar will be tested first at the Thales site of Hengelo (in the Netherlands) and then at the Naval Group shipyard in Brittany for the integration and tests of the radar with the combat system of the first-in-class MCM vessel for the Belgian Navy.
It has to be noted that unlike NS100 and NS200, Thales systematically delivers NS50 with a radome.
NS family of radars
An important aspect of the NS50 is that Thales maximized the use of components and software from the existing NS family of radars. “If you look at the below deck equipment, the commonality is almost 100%. The physical, electrical and data interfaces are almost identical. This helps the shipyards and integrators during construction of the ship, but it also helps us a lot in the development phase” explained Hugo Anbeek.
NS50 is an X-band radar, while NS100 and NS200 are S-band, therefore the transmitter receiver part is unique. There are four customers to date for the rest of the NS family of radars: The NS100 has been procured by the Republic of Singapore Navy (While Thales can not comment on this information but the RSN website indicates the Littoral Mission Vessels as the platform), the Royal Netherlands Navy (HNLMS Rotterdam and HNLMS Johan de Witt LPDs) and recently the Royal Navy (Type 31 frigates). The NS200 has been procured by the Royal Netherlands Army and is fitted on trucks.
According to Pauline Clausard Leblais, what makes the NS50 unique is its fire control capability. Thanks to this new mode, customers don’t need to procure a dedicated fire control radar. With NS50 they pretty much get two radars in one. On the MCM motherships of the Belgian and Royal Netherlands Navies, the NS50 will be used to provide fire control data for the main gun (which is set to be the BAE Systems Bofors 40Mk4 as Naval News understands). There will be no dedicated fire control radars aboard these vessels.
“This is what makes the NS50 unique, it is a game changer. We bring dual performances in a single radar: Both surveillance and fire control. This is more affordable for the navies in terms of procurement. It also has advantages in terms of foot print and performances”.
Pauline Clausard Leblais
2D vs 4D
NS50 was designed to replace the Variant in Thales portfolio of naval radars. The Variant however, like all radars so far in this market segment (i.e. radar for MCM vessels, OPVs, Fast Attack Craft…) is a 2D radar while Thales defines the NS50 as being a “4D” AESA radar. Legacy 2D radars were limited to providing range and azimuth information only. In comparison, NS50 now brings:
- Doppler / time on target
With NS50, Thales gives the end user the ability to electronically scan with the radar beams (dual axis multi beam technology): Thanks to the multiple beams in azimuth, the radar can spend more time on target and more effectively see and measure the target. This is yes another unique and game changing capability in this radar segment.
“NS50 is scalable. We can adapt the number of TR modules depending on customer requirements that means that NS50 can also be a good candidate for small corvette types of platforms”.
NS50 future upgrades and applications
A future upgrade of NS50 might bring a staring mode, where the radar stops from spinning and tracks the target more accurately, a technology inherited from the SMART-L MM which uses this mode for anti-ballistic missions. NS50 also inherits the latest radar technology from Thales development on the APAR Blk2.
Naval News understands that the NS50 could be used as a secondary, dedicated X-band radar aboard larger surface combatants (supplementing an S-band radar) in a similar fashion to Northrop Grumman’s SPQ-9B which is fitted aboard several classes of U.S. Navy and JMSDF vessels. Such a X-band radar has the capability to detect and track low-flying, high-speed, small Radar Cross Section anti-ship missile targets in heavy clutter environments…
Hugo Anbeek told us “That is an area where X-band radars excels over S-band radars because you have better performance against surface target, you have a better overall accuracy and resolution. For sure, we imagine NS50 being used in such a role for larger ships. We also see NS50 as a possible secondary radar, completing a NS100 or NS200”.
Naval News believes vessels such as Germany’s MKS180, Germany and Netherlands’ LCF replacement, Netherlands’ ASWF (M frigates replacement) and even Italy and France’s Horizon-class (post MLU) could feature NS50 in a similar role to SPQ-9B.
Right now Thales is focused on the naval market with NS50, but that doesn’t mean that it will not have a future in the land domain. This was the case of the NS200, initially unveiled at Euronaval 2016 for naval customers but the Netherlands Army ended up procuring it (as GM200 MMC).
About rMCM program
The Belgian Ministry of Defense officially notified the consortium Belgian Naval & Robotics (formed by Naval Group & ECA Group) on May 22, 2019, a contract to supply 12 motherships and associated equipment to the Belgian and Dutch Navies.
According to Commander Bultot, rMCM Project Leader, the first steel cut of the first-in-class ship is set to take place at the Kership (Piriou) shipyard in Concarneau, France, on 21 June 2021.
Designed by Naval Group, the MCM mothership has one port and one starboard LARS located slightly aft of midship, close to the ship’s centre of gravity. Each LARS consists of a pivoting A-Frame davit with the USV, weighing up to 18t, housed in a floating cradle. It allows the simultaneous launch of two USVs with maximal safety. For the Belgian-Dutch mine countermeasure (MCM) program, conducted by Belgium Naval Robotics – a Naval Group and ECA Group consortium -, they will be used to operate two ECA’s Inspector 125 USV.
The Inspector 125 USV has a length of about 12 meters, a beam of about 4 meters and a full load weight of 18.1 tons. According to ECA Group, the Inspector 125 is designed to receive a wide range of payload with easy and quick reconfiguration capability. It can carry, deploy and recover the A18 mid-size AUV, the T18 LARS for seafloor survey or MCM detection operation or 2x SEASCAN + 6x K-STER C for MCM identification and neutralization operations. The Inspector 125 has an endurance of 40 hours, a maximum speed of 25 knots and an operational range of 12 nautical miles (from the mother-ship).
The mothership itself is 82 meters long with a displacement of 2,500 tons and a crew complement of 30 sailors (total accommodation for 63 people). It is fitted with a Bofors 40Mk4 40m main gun system, FN Herstal’ Sea deFNder 12.7mm remote weapon stations, an NS50 radar by Thales, Sea Eagle EO/IR by Chess Dynamics, Saab TactiCall Communication System, and a platform for SKELDAR V-200 VTOL UAV.