Crotale: How the Leader in Air Defence Missile Systems Keeps Its Edge
(Source: Thales; issued Oct 04, 2018)
The Finnish Army has operated the Thales Crotale-NG surface-to-air missile for several years. It is mounted on the Finnish-made Sisu Pasi XA-180 six-wheeled armored vehicle, seen here jacked up into firing position with radar extended. (FI Army photo)
How has the Crotale air defence missile system maintained its invincible reputation even after thirty years of ever-changing incoming threats?

The question is even more pertinent today coming just after France and Finland issued a joint declaration calling for a common European strategy on defence cooperation.

“Crotale was the first land air defence missile system designed with both radar and infrared sensors to provide the best view of the situation– and it still is,” says Pascal L’ebrellec, Air Defence Sales Manager at Thales. “It’s also a very stable, reliable, compact multi-sensor system with everything integrated on one vehicle from detection to interception, in order to respond to threats from planes, helicopters, or drones.”

This “all in one” missile launcher was designed to protect and reassure Finland against the rumblings of the neighbouring Soviet Union. Throughout the decades, Thales has continually upgraded the Crotale with new features including improved connectivity and electronics.

In its most recent upgrade, the Crotale NG (New Generation), features a state-of-the-art thermal camera that provides the Finnish Defence Forces with a dependable real-time image in daylight or at night. The system is effective helicopters, drones, and rockets, and it can protect fixed or moving civil or military sites. The Crotale NG can fire 13-kilogram warheads at Mach 3.5 speed at ranges of at least 11 kilometres.

“The camera gives you much more information than radar,” says L’ebrellec. “Radar allows you to see something on a screen, but you don’t know what it is. It can only tell you whether something is flying according to the flight plan. But with the infrared camera, you can see whether the object is, a dangerous aircraft, or just a toy drone. It can distinguish between a Finnish aircraft and a Russian, giving you “friend or foe” capacity.”

This capacity to make fine distinctions is an example of how Thales has been keeping Crotale up with the times. “The trend in the military is to use more and more small drones with electronic equipment. We’re coming back to the Cold War world where the targets were small cruise missiles.” This has fuelled strong demand for anti-drone systems around the world, L’ebrellec says.

The Crotale NG has demonstrated that technical decisions made over 30 years ago are still very relevant and make it capable of engaging the targets of today, which weren’t even envisaged when it was designed.

Crotale NG entered production in 1990. Following Finland and France it quickly received a vote of confidence when other countries including Greece, Oman, and South Korea adopted the system.

Faced with increasing and multifaceted threats, Crotale NG will continue to contribute to a stronger and more secure Europe.

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