France to modify Falcon 8Xs for SIGINT missions


France’s military establishment has selected the Falcon 8X business jet as a platform for its future Signal Intelligence (SIGINT) duties.

The French Armament General Directorate (DGA) has ordered three Falcon 8Xs for the role. The aircraft will be outfitted for SIGINT duties by Thales. Thales, Dassault and the DGA have jointly been researching and developing the CUGE Universal Warfare Capacity strategic intelligence aircraft program for the past 10 years.

The sensor that has been developed can monitor both radio and radar emissions, the first time that simultaneously monitoring radio and radar signals has been possible. Externally the ‘lumps and bumps’ usually associated with SIGINT aircraft have been reduced to a larger ‘chin’ on the aircraft’s forward fuselage.

The system works through multi-polarisation antennas with process data using artificial intelligence to automate data processing.

“The information collected by the systems will then be analysed by monitoring and intelligence specialists and fed into armed forces databases,” said Thales in a statement. “The programme also includes a ground-based training platform. Through this new programme, the French armed forces will once again rely on Thales’s expertise to significantly enhance their SIGINT capabilities, and will gain a crucial advantage through a better understanding of the strategic environment.”

The French Armed Forces originally announced in February 2018 that it would launch the programme using two, as then unspecified, Dassault Falcon business jets as the platform. In March 2018, Dassault announced that it had won the contract, with its chairman and CEO Eric Trappier hinting at the use of the Falcon 8X as a platform. “I am very proud and happy with the decision of the Ministry of the Armed Forces. The Falcon Epicure will serve the French forces in the same way as the Falcons 10, 200, 50, 2000, 900 and 7X are already doing it,” said Trappier.

The French Air Force is expecting the three Falcon 8Xs to be flying missions by 2025, at which point, two ageing C160 Transall turboprops that are currently used will be retired.

The French armed forces have used every type of business jet that Dassault has built. Early Falcon 10s were used extensively by the French Navy in their country’s overseas territories. The aircraft that the Falcon 8X is derived from, the Falcon 7X, is currently used by the Air Force for VIP duties. Two Falcon 7Xs are based in Villacoublay, just to the southwest of Paris.

It is not the first time that business jets have been pressed into SIGINT or ELINT (Electronic Signals Intelligence) roles by air forces Around the world.

The Israel Air Force utilises a small fleet of Gulfstream GVs and G550s that have been outfitted for ELINT missions by Israel Aircraft Industries. A similar system is in place with the Singapore Air Force.

SAAB in Sweden developed a system based on the Bombardier Global 6000. Customers include the UAE Air Force.

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