When Rear Admiral Salim bin Abdullah bin Rashid Al Alawi pressed the button on a high-tech laser steel-cutting machine at VT Shipbuilding's Portsmouth yard in October, it didn't just mark the beginning of a multi-million-pound contract, it heralded the start of a new era.
Project Khareef, which will see VT deliver three ocean patrol vessels in the next four years, is the UK's first naval shipbuilding export in ten years.
The £400m project will allow VT to take on 200 extra staff. And, once complete, it will provide the Royal Navy of Oman with the most advanced ocean patrol vessels (OPVs) in the world.
After an intense period of negotiation, it has been revealed that Thales Nederland will be the main subcontractor on the project. They were chosen, they said, for their reputation as a naval supplier and the work they'd done with Oman on the Muheet class ships. But what, exactly, will they be bringing to the table on Khareef?
SMART-S MK2 SURVEILLANCE RADAR
As Thales's newest multi-beam radar, SMART-S mk2 will ensure that Oman's OPVs have the latest and best surveillance equipment available. The SMART-S mk2 only passed its Sea Acceptance Test (SAT) in August, but there are already nine systems under contract worldwide.
The reason for that is its high performance as a medium to long-range air and surface surveillance and target designation tool in complex littoral environments. Through its use of Doppler processing, the SMART-S mk2 can detect the stealthiest of targets in a cluttered environment by measuring radial speed directly.
The SMART-S mk2 has a coverage of 250km in range and up to 70° in elevation. The system is fully solid state, guaranteeing very high availability, and supports full performance of ESSM. The SMART-S mk2's capabilities also include surface gunfire support, helicopter guidance and UAV control.
STING ELECTRO-OPTIC WEAPON CONTROL SYSTEM
The Sting EO mk2 is Thales Nederland's latest multi-purpose, multi-sensor naval fire control tracking system.
It will allow the Royal Navy of Oman to support gunfire control, perform kill assessment, and classify and identify threats. The system can also be used as a surveillance sensor, even under radar silence conditions.
The Sting EO mk2 employs a third-generation focal plane array MWIR-camera, colour and black and white TV cameras and a class one laser range finder.
It overcomes the tracking problems associated with low-flying missiles by applying dual radar bands complimented by EO sensors and realises high tracking capability even in littoral, high-clutter and jamming scenarios.
VIGILE 400 ESM
The Vigile 400 ESM (electronic support measure) is manufactured by Thales Systemes Aeroportes and, as the primary sensor, will be the key component in the Royal Navy of Oman's electronic warfare (EW) suite. It will be fully integrated into the combat system and participate in situation awareness, self-protection and ELINT (electronic signals intelligence).
The core Vigile system uses E to J-band instantaneous surveillance, dual polarised antenna and has a true 100% probability of intercept. With pulse-to-pulse record and replay capability, high tracking capacity and high resistance to reflection and multi-path effect, the Vigile 400 ESM promises to be a major contributor to the Oman navy's enhanced operational awareness.
Sold to 22 navies around the globe, TACTICOS is the world's best-selling command and control system. It can be used for a wide variety of tasks including mission planning and control, force warfare, air control, navigation, UAV handling, communications control, training, and simulation and operational data support.
TACTICOS will allow the Royal Navy of Oman to integrate and control a broad range of sensors and effectors, afford a high degree of automation for surveillance and open up a range of short and long-term planning facilities. The system will also provide functional redundancy for all operational functions, on-line reallocation of operator tasks, a flexible man-machine interface and a system configuration adaptable to the needs of the Oman Navy.
The fully integrated communications system (FICS) is Thales's response to new internal and external communications challenges caused by the expansion of operations and a move toward cooperative engagement and defence by navies worldwide.
FICS's integrated communication control and monitoring system will give the Royal Navy of Oman the single, multi-service backbone it needs to flourish in the modern naval climate.
FICS will allow the Omani navy to bring everything from the telephone to video surveillance to ciphering under the control of one system, bringing them into line with more established navies like Britain, France and South Africa, who already use the technology.
EFFECTS OF THE CONTRACT
The effects of Project Khareef, AKA monsoon, will be felt around the world. For Oman, it means peace of mind. The first boat is being delivered in 2010, with the others following at six-monthly intervals. They will be used to help the Royal Navy of Oman protect the Omani coastline. And, with conflict in the region continuing to fester, the Sultan of Oman will sleep easier knowing his country is in possession of the world's most advanced ocean patrol vessels.
The effects of the contract on UK shipbuilding will be enormous. As the first UK naval shipbuilding export in a decade, Project Khareef will give confidence and inspiration to the rest of the UK industry. Just as importantly, it has allowed for the creation of extra jobs in Portsmouth.
"The people we need for the Oman contract will then move across to the carriers so we have got the right skilled workforce at the end of the day," says VT's human resources director Trevor Cartwright. "We're making good inroads on recruitment for the future and this is good news for Portsmouth and is good news for us at VT."
And for Thales, the contract is a benchmark of success in terms of recognition of their systems and also in also in achieving their business objectives; namely: to secure a slice of Middle Eastern defence contract pie.
"This contract is important for Thales as it reinforces our relationship with the Royal Navy of Oman," says Thales sales director John Beelan. "It's also a foothold for Thales in the Middle East region. On a systems level, this contract marks a new development in our TACTICOS combat management system that will run on a Linux operating system."