Blog AnalysisDefense industry

At Sofins, the French special forces arms fair

(B2 in Souge) A real meeting place between special forces operators and industrialists, Sofins, a special forces exhibition (1), has the specificities of its clientele: very demanding, they only order small volumes... But the counting in your order book is the guarantee of valuable prestige for manufacturers of military equipment. B2 went to the Souge camp, near Bordeaux, at the beginning of April to identify some trends.

With just over 4000 visitors expected, Sofins almost doubles the number compared to the previous edition. Above all, delegations from several countries, notably European and African, visited the premises, sometimes with interesting decision-making abilities.

With just a few clicks, Corvus operators can produce the missing parts (B2/Romain Mielcarek)

Corvus, homemade low-cost drone

The Corvus (ultra-light wing observation and reconnaissance sensor in support of special operations), a small drone with an original style, is considered one of the stars of the stand of the Ministry of the Armed Forces. Thanks to the ingenuity of a non-commissioned officer of Air Parachute Commando number 10 (CPA 10), its maintenance in operational conditions is achievable in autonomy for 90% of the parts. The canopy, all in polystyrene, can be reproduced in about an hour from a very inexpensive raw material. The mechanical parts are made with a 3D printer. The prototype is currently being tested with a camera but could also carry a radio relay or a health kit. It is above all the result of the cleverness of the drone cell of this special forces unit which has implemented an inexpensive, practical solution, directly meeting the needs of operators.

The Armin station looks like a simple laptop. (B2 / Romain Mielcarek)

Armin, when a big industrialist speeds up the tempo

This project, led by the Thales Armin start-up, is very inspired by Auxylium, a comparable solution developed by the military for Operation Sentinelle (we told you about it here). The starting idea is always the same: the current generation is so accustomed to using a mobile phone that it struggles to appropriate military radios with their sometimes rough interface. This station, which looks like a simple mobile, integrates both military and civilian networks and can easily switch from one to the other. It allows a small team (50 people maximum) to communicate with relative security and very quickly, during an emergency deployment for example. The manufacturer studies the needs of different special forces units, in the armies and the police, for quite different uses in operations. The life cycle of this product is also interesting: produced at high speed, this advanced prototype is presented after barely two years, compared to seven years on average for a project at this manufacturer.

Example of application of Mims & Tech products. (B2 / Romain Mielcarek)

Camouflage: from special forces to business creation

Another project very noticed at this show, the range of camouflage equipment developed by the very small company Mim&Tech. Founded by a former 13rd paratrooper dragoon regiment (13rd RDP) which has just left the service, it offers sorts of semi-rigid tarpaulins, inspired by materials used for theater sets, which make it possible to simulate both reliefs and colors of the environment. The young veteran, and now new entrepreneur, has real expertise: he spent part of his career at the head of his regiment's camouflage cell.

A Medicalem model. (B2/Romain Mielcarek)

Medicalem, the case of newcomers

A small company in the Parisian suburbs, Medicalem has no experience in the military world. She was invited to Sofins for the originality of her products. These medical simulation specialists are more accustomed to schools of surgeons and nurses, to which they provide mannequins on which to train for all kinds of operations. The one presented here can, on computer command, imitate different characters specific to an injured person: cries, eye movements, heart palpitations... The doctor who exercises on it will have to make his tourniquet to stop a hemorrhage or even perform cardiac massage, in order to "save" his patient. A realistic tool whose potential Medicalem still hopes to increase thanks to augmented reality which can make it possible to carry out a virtual briefing, in a helicopter or a boat for example, upstream of the intervention.

A Masstech rear view, with its 81mm mortar. (B2 / Romain Mielcarek)

Masstech, the return of the caterpillar

With its little pick-up tunes, the Masstech T4 is available here in a tracked version. This light armored vehicle, also equipped with a mortar, is currently being tested by the French army. It brings up to date, in a very original form, the eternal debate of the caterpillar versus the wheel. The caterpillar is reputed to be more expensive to maintain than the wheel, but it has a significant advantage: greater mobility and the ability to go over particularly difficult terrain. With a vehicle like this, special forces could provide significant fire support even in terrain very hostile to vehicles of this size. This machine, directly inspired by a Toyota model, is designed by the French Technamm.

The Thales Hawkei. (B2/Romain Mielcarek)

Hawkei, French made in Australia

This seven-ton armored vehicle has been visible at arms fairs for several years now. Thales has also been trying to sell it to Poland since 2014. It is now starting to arrive in Australia, the only country to have ordered 1100 copies of it… In an unarmed version. In France, its manufacturer Thales would like to convince the special forces of the interest of this vehicle which combines good crossing capabilities, correct shielding and a substantial carriage of armaments. Here it is presented in a version with a teleoperated Belgian FN Herstal cannon and a basket of rockets produced by Thales, identical to those used by the Tiger combat helicopter. The specificity of this machine? If it is produced by a French industrialist, it is however manufactured… In Australia. In the case of a purchase by Paris, it would therefore be an importation of arms.

The tool is very intuitive. (B2 / Romain Mielcarek).

Find MP, the sand box 2.0

Many manufacturers are trying to come up with their own solutions for digitizing the battle space. Nexter, maker of armored vehicles and, increasingly, robots, presents a digitized sandbox here. Transportable, it can be easily embarked in a vehicle. In addition to the platform's ability to integrate all the units present in the field, to project the cartography in 3D and to plan the action, a new argument appears more and more often: the manufacturer announces total interoperability with competing products. .

(Romain Mielcarek)

(1) Special Operations Forces Innovation Network Seminar

Romain Mielcarek

Romain Mielcarek is a defense and international journalist. Correspondent of B2 in Paris, he also collaborates with DSI, RFI and Le Monde Diplomatique. Holder of a doctoral thesis in information and communication sciences, he also conducts academic research on military influence. His latest book: "Arms dealers, a French business" (Tallandier, 2017).

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