The French Air Force has initiated flight testing with the Reco NG aerial reconnaissance (AREOS) pod developed by Thales. Flight testing on board the Rafale is expected to continue for about six months.
Currently, the French Air Force’s tactical recce operations are limited to the obsolete Mirage F1 CR, using its internal sensors and the Presto pod. The new pod will enable the Rafale to assume this role. Reco NG is able to capture digital imagery both day and night, from high, medium and low altitudes.
The pod can be operated in fully autonomous mode, without any intervention by the crew. The French air force has ordered 12 pod systems with three ground systems to equip Rafale F3 fighter. The French Navy will get six more systems. Thales is expected to complete the delivery of all 18 pods by April 2012.
The pod began flight testing a year ago, assisting the integration of the shipborne station on the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier, using a Mirage 2000D platform. During these flights, datalink transmissions between the pod and the embedded shipborne station were validated, including very high-speed Ku-band datalink from the pod to the shipborne station for downlink of useful sensor data and the UHF datalink (based on the L22 TDMA) between the pod and the shipborne station for coordination.
The imagery gathered by the Reco NG pod is displayed on the MINDS-NG multi-sensor image interpretation and dissemination system (known as SAIM-NG in French), developed by Thales Communications / Intelligence Surveillance & Reconnaissance and also integrated on the aircraft carrier.