When the Brazilian Navy ordered four new submarines from France in 2009, it spelled out its requirements in no uncertain terms.
In particular, there was no question of being dependent on foreign contractors to provide maintenance and through-life support for the vessels. For Brazil, it was a matter of keeping control of its military capabilities and guaranteeing national sovereignty.
The communication systems for the submarines incorporate two of Thales's flagship products: the NGIN naval VoIP solution, and the PARTNER centralized communication management system. Transfers of technology in this field are always a bit of a balancing act. Client countries want to be able to maintain their own systems and add new features and functions, which in the long term means doing without the system designers and eventually acquiring the potential to design a competing system themselves. But Thales fully understood the Brazilian Navy's requirement and a suitable arrangement was found: the technology would be transferred to Omnisys, a Brazilian company that is part of the Thales Group, with Brazilian naval engineers receiving training alongside their Omnisys colleagues.
ToT-1: Understanding the internal structure of the communication systems
In March 2017, Eduardo and Walter for Omnisys, and Fabio, Italo and Victor for the Brazilian Navy were dispatched to Gennevilliers, France, to take part the Phase 1 of the transfer of technology operation (ToT-1), where they would learn about the internal structure of NGIN and PARTNER and get to grips with the different system modules and interfaces. The training lasted several weeks, and our happy band of Brazilians came away with a solid understanding of the engineering principles behind the communication system. In fact they were pleasantly surprised how open the exchanges had been. Rather than having to squeeze out secrets from reluctant specialists or cajole the engineers into parting with their precious knowledge, the five trainees were impressed by the level of openness and transparency. They said they welcomed the opportunity to be treated as equals by their colleagues, and found them attentive and always ready to answer their questions.
ToT-2: (Re)configuring PARTNER and NGIN software
Fast forward to June 2018 and it's time for Phase 2 of the technology transfer operation, which will run until mid-October with a six-week break for the summer in the middle. This time Omnisys engineers Eduardo and Igor, with Fabio, Antonio and Victor as observers from the Brazilian Navy, will be getting under the hood of the software behind the PARTNER and NGIN systems. They'll find out how to do perfective maintenance operations like getting the system to recognize a new radio or declaring a new IP address. They'll be acquiring other skills as well, such as how to detect, understand and resolve any bugs that might appear in the software. By the end of this year, Thales will have delivered a test platform to Omnisys with all the requisite software development environments and the capacity to simulate the submarines' communication systems in fine detail. With this software testbench, engineers will be able to thoroughly test new configurations and updates before they are uploaded to the vessels.
ToT-3: Managing the hardware
Phase 3 of the program will begin in 2019, this time at the Omnisys facility in São Bernardo do Campo, where engineers from the Brazilian company will learn to be fully autonomous in detecting and fixing hardware problems as well as managing spare parts inventories and installing new components.
The Brazilian Navy will take delivery of its first new submarine in June 2019. By then, thanks to a carefully structured and executed transfer of technology program — and also thanks to Eduardo, Walter, Italo, Fabio, Victor, Igor, Antonio and their colleagues — the customer will be able to rely on a local Brazilian company with all the skill sets needed to maximize the operational availability of these new strategic assets.
Once again, Thales is trusted at the highest levels to help its customers maintain tactical superiority and strategic independence at every decisive moment.