Thales Weapons Skills Trainer Looks to Future Requirements
On the fringes of ITEC 2018 in Stuttgart this week, Thales took the opportunity of the proximity of their facilities in nearby Ditzingen to brief journalists on the continuing progress of SAGITTARIUS. Originally a typical small arms trainer, with features in common with many of its peer systems, SAGITTARIUS has transformed in recent years and is now prepared to face a future which, although far from certain, is now unlikely to hold many surprises for the team that has analysed, debated, evolved and innovated.
With over 270 installations globally, SAGITTARIUS is already a considerable success story for Thales. Admittedly, 184 of those are with the Bundeswehr and a significant number are in service with the Dutch Armed Forces. Nevertheless, with installations in Ireland, Luxembourg, Botswana, Nigeria, South Africa and India – with a specially configured version in Japan – among other nations, SAGITTARIUS can legitimately claim to be a global system. The Bundeswehr is in the process of upgrading its entire inventory to the SAGITTARIUS EVOLUTION configuration (which MONCh covered in depth last November – see here), as are several other current users, demonstrating satisfaction with what the comprehensive small arms trainer has given them to date.
But to call it a small arms trainer, still, does SAGITTARIUS something of a disservice. In its latest iteration, the system offers weapons skills training for mortars, for anti-infrastructure weapons such as the Dynamit Nobel Defence (DND) WIRKMITTEL 90 – even for naval gunnery applications. “Current requirements, however, are quite conservative,” admitted Thales’ Product Line Manager Customer Services & Training Solutions, Marco Zender. That means that there are some steep hills to climb for the business development team in convincing existing and potential users to take full advantage of the system’s transformational capabilities.
Many of those capabilities stem from the use of the CryEngine image generator, for which Thales now has direct access to the code under the terms of its licensing agreement. This makes adjustments and enhancements simpler, far faster and infinitely less costly, according to Mr. Zender. The use of compressed air to simulate recoil in the untethered weapons rather than CO2 is also an advantage – not only a training benefit but also an environmental boon, while the development of a small and efficient mobile recharging station has done much to promote consideration of the mobile solution in the minds of a number of customers.
SAGITTARIUS EVOLUTION has reached a level of maturity and agility that make it attractive to a wide range of potential users. However, the team’s ambitions know very few bounds as they seek to establish a future road map for the system. “We could integrate VBS if that was required – but that is a ‘closed’ system from the access perspective, so that would make it quite expensive to implement. We are also looking at some methods of incorporating virtual reality, since shrinking the immersion gap is a significant short-term goal for us,” commented Mr. Zender, adding that the Microsoft HOLOLENS, for example, had been a consideration, but that it suffers from being incompatible with potential outdoor use and from interfering (as a result of the headgear) with the close stock-to-cheek junction between shooter and weapon required for marksmanship skills.
The future for the system – which the company claims as the leading European system of its type – looks busy. France is expected to release an RfQ in the next few weeks, Sweden is also close to opening a competition and tests have been conducted with the Dutch Navy that are likely to result in further orders at an indeterminate point. The fact that there are no ITAR-associated issues makes life easier for a broad range of customers, but there remains one barrier that is difficult to overcome. “The biggest obstacle, to be honest, is obtaining export licenses,” Mr. Zender told MONCh. Which is a telling, slightly sad but unsurprising commentary on the manner in which life continues to become more difficult for those seeking to provide self-defence capabilities to sovereign nations. There were protesters at ITEC 2018 – very restrained and polite protesters, but nonetheless representing a thought process that finds defence distasteful, even unnecessary. It is, perhaps, our job as a community to continue to do the very best we can to educate and inform the wider audience as to why systems such as SAGITTARIUS are not only necessary to help prevent conflict but as a source of innovation and development assist in the creation of capabilities in all walks of life, not just defence.