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French government activates plans to replace C-160G Gabriel SIGINT aircraft


The French Ministry of Defence (MOD) announced on 28th February plans to replace the French Air Force’s two Transporter Allianz C-160G GABRIEL Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) gathering aircraft.

MOD plans call for C-160G fleet to be retired and replaced by three new SIGINT platforms based upon a Dassault FALCON business jet airframe. According to a statement supplied to MONS from the office of Florence Parly, France’s Minister for the Armed Forces, the air force has decided to acquire an additional airframe, to take force’s future SIGINT fleet to three aircraft, to reflect the strategic and operational importance, which the air force, and the French government in general, place on the gathering of SIGINT prior to, and during, future conflicts.

The MOD has yet to announce which Dassault Falcon variant will be acquired to satisfy the requirement. Ms. Parly’s office declined to provide additional details regarding the aircraft’s mission system, except to say that it will, “be a real technological and generational leap compared to the C-160G’s equipment.”

Nevertheless, open sources have revealed that Thales has, for the past decade, been developing the new SIGINT package which will furnish the aircraft. The C-160G replacement is being launched under the terms of the Charge Utile Guerre Electronique (CUGE: Universal Electronic Warfare) programme which, according to French MOD documents, envisages the first C-160G replacement aircraft entering service by circa 2025, when the GABRIEL is expected to retire.

Specific details regarding the expected capabilities of the CUGE platform are scant, although French government sources note that the new aircraft will have a completely new mission system and will not ‘cross deck’ any SIGINT subsystems from the C-160G. The SIGINT package will have the capability to simultaneously detect, geolocate and classify Radio Frequency (RF) emissions from communications and radar systems. It is possible, therefore, that this will give the aircraft’s SIGINT equipment an RF detection waveband of circa 30 megahertz up to circa 18 gigahertz, which would enable the aircraft to perform SIGINT collection vis-à-vis a wide range of civilian and military tactical radio, cell phone and satellite communications systems, in addition to a large swathe of ground-based air surveillance and fire control/ground controlled interception radars. Moreover, from a communications intelligence perspective, the mission system could be ‘5G ready’ in terms of geolocation, detection and interception of the fifth generation of cell phones which will enter service over the next ten years.

The choice of the Dassault FALCON (for more on the FALCON, please see MONS story here) as the preferred CUGE airframe is unsurprising: The C-160G GABRIEL has a published ceiling of 27,000 feet/ft (8,230 metres/m), whereas several recent members of the Dassault FALCON family have a ceiling of 51,000ft (15,545 metres). The higher ceiling of the later greatly increases the territory that the aircraft can monitor for RF transmissions enlarging the area that the aircraft can cover in a single sortie, as compared to the C-160G. This is a particularly important consideration for French military deployments in the Sahel region of central Africa where the C-160G may have been deployed to detect communications signals from suspected terrorists. The Sahel covers a region of over three million square kilometres (1.1 million square miles). The performance characteristics of the FALCON family could afford the aircraft the ability to cover more of this area in a shorter amount of time compared to the C-160G.

More on this subject please see MONS story here.

Thomas Withington


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