Export opportunities await Thales new sonar surveillance system

Thales Australia has unveiled a new, ‘rapidly-deployable’ Fibre Laser Sensor (FLS) designed that uses sonar technology to improve underwater surveillance capabilities for marine defence vehicles.

[Image, right: In the past, Thales has supplied sonar products for the FFG Upgrade defence project.]

The sea-bed surveillance array is on-show in Sydney as part of the Pacific 2012 International Maritime Exposition this week.

The FLS array can be dropped from a Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat (RHIB) and almost immediately provide an underwater surveillance capability, says Thales.

“FLS technology uses electro-optic hydrophones (underwater microphones) to convert underwater sounds to light signals. An FLS device is embedded inside the hydrophone’s fibre-optic glass. When the hydrophone picks up the underwater noise made by another ship or submarine, the actual shape of the device changes. This change in dimensions is used to transmit the acoustic information via a light signal back along the cable, where a processor provides information about the signal to the operator,” the company reported.

“The information coming from many underwater sensors can then be processed to provide information on the direction the underwater noise is coming from and its strength, giving the operator an indication of where another ship or submarine is, how many propellers and blades it might have, and even what direction it is travelling. The low attenuation of the optical signals potentially enables an FLS array to be several kilometres long.”

Thales specialises in underwater systems, and operates a Centre of Excellence for sonar technology in Rydalmere, New South Wales. 

The company has built sonar systems for various defence projects around the world, including the FFG Upgrade, Collins submarine, Huon Class Minehunter and ANZAC frigates, and claims to have exported over $400 million of sonar and related systems.

The latest FLS system was developed with the support of the Department of Defence’s Capability and Technology Demonstrator (CTD) program.