Christophe Farnaud joined Thales in 2012 as vice president of international relations and became Vice President Africa in 2014. African Defense had the chance to talk with him in the time after the Marrakech Air Show and before Africa Aerospace and Defence.
African Defense There are certainly differences in many areas between northern Africa, central and southern. Can you explain how Thales understands those differences and how it approaches the different areas and Africa in general from a business development perspective?
Farnaud: There isn’t one Africa. There are different countries with different needs. Each region has its own assets and challenges and Thales takes this into account when addressing the local markets. In Africa or elsewhere in the world, we always adapt our solutions and products and make sure they are custom-fit to the demands and specificities of our customers and partners.
There are nonetheless some common topics and challenges faced by most African countries, such as the need for security and the demand for solutions to match the growth in mobility of people and freight both on land, sea, and air.
Thales brings its expertise to these domains, facilitating regional cooperation.
In air traffic management for instance, Thales’ systems are used to monitor around 80 percent of Africa’s skies, allowing for safer and more efficient regional air traffic. Thales is the supplier of choice across around 30 countries, including the 17 countries that make up the ASECNA cooperative civil aviation agency.
African Defense: I understand (perhaps based on old information) that Thales has operations in South Africa, Algeria, Cameroon, Morocco and Nigeria and has services in more than 30 more. First, when describing, “has operations” in a country, what does that exactly mean, versus having services in a country?
Farnaud: Simply put, Thales has offices, production and maintenance sites or development facilities across a number of African countries.
Thales’ teams located in these countries also provide services to a wider region comprising neighboring countries. That ensures that our presence throughout Africa, both in defense and civilian activities, spans over 30 countries.
Talking about activities, we made the strategic choice to develop an industrial footprint in several countries of Africa, for instance in South Africa or Morocco. And we want to go further.
African Defense: Second, is there a developed roadmap on how Thales is approaching the military, government and security sectors in Africa in developing new customers and clients?
Farnaud: Due to the current geopolitical context, security and defense are key priorities everywhere, including in Africa. Africa is a strategic region for Thales and we hope to develop our presence there, in defense and security, as well as in transportation, aerospace and space.
These are all strategic domains that call for mutual trust and a durable presence in the region. Thales seeks to build long-term partnerships and invest in local skills development through training. The group is partnering with local actors, such as the Université internationale de Rabat, where Thales fosters two master courses in cyber security and aerospace. On top of that, in South Africa, Thales has pro-actively taken decisive steps regarding its shareholdings structure to endorse the Black Economic Empowerment program and fosters several projects designed to promote education and women empowerment.
African Defense: Border and maritime security are huge issues in Africa. Tell me about Thales solutions for giving African nations more control over their border areas and over the vast expanses of littoral waters.
Farnaud: Maritime security definitely is a key priority, from the Eastern Coast area to the Gulf of Guinea. Fighting piracy, protecting national coasts, safeguarding oil and gas facilities but also fishery resources: in all these fields, Thales expertise is recognized. Our solutions have been deployed in Asia, in Europe and in Latin America, and we can definitely do more in Africa.
African Defense: Earlier this year, what was the focus from your stand at the Marrakech Air Show?
Farnaud: Thales displayed a significant array of its capabilities in various domains, with a focus on air defense. In particular, we showcased the functions of the tactical and multirole Ground Master GM200 radar along with the capacities of the C2 (command-and-control) SkyView system.
The Marrakech Air Show also gave us the opportunity to highlight our intention to invest locally, using local know-how and expertise. Thales has launched the construction of an additive layer manufacturing (3D printing) unit in Morocco. Construction work has begun. It integrates specific factory of the future concepts.
This industrial center will begin to produce prototypes next year.
African Defense: What technologies and services will Thales focus on from its stand at Africa Aerospace & Defence (AAD) this year?
Farnaud: At AAD, Thales will lay the emphasis on its expertise in both aerospace and defense domains, thus reflecting our large portfolio of products and solutions.
In air defense, we will present several of our cutting-edge products. For instance, our digital joint reconnaissance pod (DJRP) will be shown. This wide area tactical reconnaissance pod with proven pedigree on numerous aircraft including Jaguar, Tornado, Harrier and Hawk, has also been selected by the South African Air Force for its Gripen aircraft.
Our GM200 and GM400 air defense radars that guarantee a high level of air surveillance, will be showcased as well as our SkyView Air C4I solution, a state-of-the-art, open-architecture command and control solution.
Regarding land defense, we will insist on our products made in Africa, such as the Scorpion solution—an automated mortar and rocket fire control system.
Other Thales’ solutions in naval defense, cyber security, soldier communications and urban systems will also be displayed.
African Defense: What are your specific goals for growth in Africa?
Farnaud: Thales believes that Africa has entered a long-term era of growth and development. Apart from the traditional need for sovereign defense, this growth will foster new opportunities in key markets such as security and transportation. Thales plans to support its African partners in all these areas.
In the security domains, areas of development include blue and green border security, security of critical infrastructure and urban security. As you know, we provided the most advanced urban security system in the world to Mexico City and are looking to use that experience everywhere in the world.
Thales expertise also includes systems to produce and control identification documents and is the provider of control systems for such documents for several African countries
Regarding transportation, the expected growth of air, sea and ground transportation in Africa will be a long-lasting phenomenon which is at the same time a cause and a consequence of Africa’s development. Both Thales’ air traffic management systems and our security solutions for airports can be provided to African customers willing to develop their activities. We also provide avionics equipment and in-flight entertainment to enhance customer experience.
On the ground, Thales provides systems to boost the development of railways thanks to signaling, communication, information and ticketing systems. The group is already present in many African countries (examples include Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa) and we plan to develop these activities all across the continent.
Thales will also continue to enhance the defense capabilities of African countries in a shifting environment.
Above all, the first asset of Thales Group is the intelligence of its people. In order to keep inventing the solutions of tomorrow, we have to work with the best talents everywhere in the world, including in Africa.
Thales is also part of the communities it serves. The Thales Foundation finances sciences educational projects through associations that we support in Burkina Faso, Liberia, Mali and Togo.
As you can see, Thales believes in Africa!