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Thales ramps up AESA radar workforce, deliveries

14 February 2017

Thales is in the process of ramping up its production rate of RBE2 AESA radars following the success of the Dassault Rafale on international markets.

The Thales RBE2 AESA radar (IHS Markit/Patrick Allen)The Thales RBE2 AESA radar (IHS Markit/Patrick Allen)

As a result of the orders for Rafale from Egypt, Qatar, and India, Dassault's supply chain has moved to the "cadence 2" production rate to support the building of two aircraft per month, against the current rate of one per month. Thales has already beefed up its industrial tooling to double its radar production, which begins in the Etrelles microelectronics competence centre in Britanny.

Half of the site's 570 employees are devoted to manufacturing the radar's transceiver modules in a clean room. "We were producing 1.2 radars a month in 2015, we have gone up to 2 per month in 2016, and we will be between 2 and 2.2 per month this year," said site director Eric Normand, adding that the workload would remain the same "until 2019 at least".

The cleanroom is being enlarged from 1800 m 2 to 2300 m 2 , with additional robots and workstations. Thales hired 140 new staff in 2016, including 50 clean room operators. About 20 more staff are expected in 2017 to complete this ramp-up. "The special nature of our businesses requires us to train our operators in-house," said Normand. "The candidates are selected on their dexterity, regardless of their previous experience. They then receive 400 hours of training before they are released onto the production lines under the supervision of a tutor."

From Etrelles, the radars are shipped to Mérignac, near Bordeaux, in the brand new Thales campus; a stone's throw from Dassault factory and the Rafale's final assembly line. Each radar is tested, calibrated, and monitored during a process that lasts nearly two months. The Thales campus has also been created in order to cope with the increased rate of production, and new integration rigs have been installed.

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