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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Discussion with FLIR Systems at Paris Air Show

Roelof van der Spuy, director of airborne OEM sales, Surveillance division and David Strong, vice president of marketing, both of FLIR Systems, speak with Rotor & Wing.

By Andrew Drwiega, Military Editor

Defense budgets are being hammered hard, but one of the few sectors that remains almost impervious to the accountant’s red pen is that involving the gathering of Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) information. If there is to be a withdrawal from placing large numbers of troops into foreign conflict zones, then the need to equip those being left behind to carry on the battle will be great. So too is the need to increase surveillance and alertness on the home front. Just because the decision has been made to back away from insurgents/terrorists abroad, does not necessarily mean that they won’t take a forward step to continue with the engagement.

FLIR Systems is a well-known supplier of detection and protection systems to both the military and Homeland Security markets. “We are now a full spectrum company,” said David Strong, “with a range of products from hand-held to threat detection to aerial surveillance. We are seeing many areas that are growing.” Not only was FLIR demonstrating a new 3D binocular—giving real depth perception—during the Paris Air Show (you really have to use it to appreciate it, a bit like the first time you put on 3D glasses to watch "Avatar" at the cinema), but there was also plenty of discussion surrounding its newest corporate acquisition, ICx Technologies, a move completed at the end of 2010. ICx Technologies has developed sensors in the specialist field of detecting and identifying chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive (CBRNE) threats. Add that to FLIR’s EO/IR lines and that makes for a dedicated specialist package of detection systems.

Roelof van der Spuy underlined the growth in the requirement for strategic asset protection, through the use of personnel scanners to airborne sensors. Incidents such as that at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan not only call for the detection of radiation, but also its identification. “Around the world people think—what if that happened here,” said van der Spuy. Monitoring the site through a variety of sensors can assist responders to gauge the situation—and plan how to react to it.


Image shows Reactor #2 at the Fukushima nuclear plant. FLIR Systems

Returning to the use of aerial systems, Strong said that there was heightened interest being generated in surveillance equipment as a direct response to increased tensions around the world, not only as a result of violence but also economic pressures.

“As an example,” said van der Spuy, “all along southern Europe and the Mediterranean we have FLIR systems on boats, maritime patrol aircraft and coastguard patrol helicopters. The current problem this region is illegal immigration from North Africa. These systems are now playing an enormous new role by protecting economic exclusion zones.”

However, this can only be effective if the systems are being networked across national borders to provide an effective deterrent. “I see as an example Frontex,” added van der Spuy. “They want to get the best of the limited funds that they have available and are almost mandating that these countries work together for the maximum exploitation of the assets.” [Note: Frontex is a European Union specialized and independent body that coordinates the operational cooperation between Member States in border security. The activities of Frontex are intelligence-driven. Frontex complements and provides particular added value to the national border management systems of the Member States.]

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