DSEI 2017

A century of submarine optronics [DSEI17D2]

13 September 2017

DSEI 2017 sees Thales celebrating 100 years of supplying submarine periscopes and above-water visual systems to the Royal Navy (RN).

In December 1915, the Admiralty approached Glasgow-based Barr & Stroud, now part of Thales, to investigate the feasibility of integrating an optical rangefinder into a periscope. As the UK’s leading supplier of military rangefinders, the company rose to the challenge and within seven months had built a fully functioning mock-up. That led to its first contract for a quantity of six FY1 periscopes being placed on 15 September 1916.

Barr & Stroud officially delivered its first submarine periscope to the navy in August 1917.

The post-war era, and the advent of the Cold War, saw the submarine periscopes increasingly optimised for surveillance and intelligence gathering. However, the opto‑mechanical technology used in these systems was not so very different from that used in the preceding 50 years, although basic night vision and electronic warfare sensors were introduced.

With the advent of the electronic age, during the late 1970s Thales introduced thermal imaging sensors and laser rangefinders to RN periscopes in 1978 and 1979 respectively. The use of electronics in periscope design architecture facilitated a transition to limited remote control, followed by full remote control systems such as those introduced to service on the Royal Australian Navy Collins-class boats in the 1990s.

These developments allowed Thales to assemble the fundamental building blocks required for the next generation of non-penetrating optronic mast visual systems. Today the RN’s latest Astute-class submarines are each equipped with two Thales CM10 optronic masts, and work is currently underway to develop a next-generation Low Profile Variant optronics mast.

(270 words)