France pushes forward with CN-235M avionics upgrade

In a bid to modernise the French Air and Space Force’s (FASF’s) matured Airbus CN-235M-200/300 fleet, France’s defence procurement agency – the Direction Générale de l’Armement (DGA; Directorate General of Armaments) – has contracted a consortium formed by Sabena Technics and Thales to upgrade the avionics of the twin-turboprop tactical transports.

The awarding of this recently signed contract was announced on January 18. Thales Group – one of the lead members of this consortium – added that 27 CN-235M-200/300s would be upgraded with new “state-of-the-art avionics” that would enable the aircraft to be integrated into general air traffic, enhance its capabilities for tactical and public services operations and increase the fleet’s overall availability, while extending its viable service life to 2040 and beyond. The first upgraded examples are expected to begin operations with the FASF in 2027.

A FASF-operated CN-235M-200 (serial 111 '64-II') in flight over France on July 12, 2021. One of the aims of this new avionics upgrade is to modernise the French CN-235M-200/300 fleet and enable it to continue its tactical transport mission until at least 2040.
A FASF-operated CN-235M-200 (serial 111 '64-II') in flight over France on July 12, 2021. One of the aims of this new avionics upgrade is to modernise the French CN-235M-200/300 fleet and enable it to continue its tactical transport mission until at least 2040. FASF/Morgane Valle

Led by Sabena Technics, the consortium aims to use this upgrade to enhance the French CN-235M-200/300 fleet’s ability to respond to the requirements of today’s tactical operations. The firm will be responsible for performing all mechanical/electrical modifications to the 27 aircraft and will integrate the relevant avionics equipment during the upgrade process. Meanwhile, Thales will supply its TopStarC global positioning system (GPS) receiver and inertial navigation system (INS), along with the latest-generation of its radio altimeters, which the firm states is “immune to 5G interference to ensure safe, high-performance navigation.”

In addition, Thales will provide avionics derived from its TopDeck suite for the CN-235M-200/300s. This avionics suite is employed by the ATR 72-600 twin-turboprop commercial passenger aircraft and has been certified on nearly 800 civil and military platforms. TopDeck is designed to be simple to use in order to reduce pilot workload and allow aircrews to focus on their core tasks and overall mission. The addition of a new avionics suite on the FASF’s CN-235M-200/300 fleet will also enable the type to meet the standards set by the European Union’s (EU’s) Single European Sky initiative, enabling the FASF to integrate into non-segregated airspace with no restrictions and allowing the air arm to complete missions quicker and more efficiently.

A CN-235M-200 (serial 129 '68-IL') on the ground at Cayenne–Rochambeau Air Base (BA367) in French Guiana on January 22, 2021. The first upgraded CN-235M-200/300 is expected to begin operations with the FASF in 2027.
A CN-235M-200 (serial 129 '68-IL') on the ground at Cayenne–Rochambeau Air Base (BA367) in French Guiana on January 22, 2021. The first upgraded CN-235M-200/300 is expected to begin operations with the FASF in 2027. FASF/Sebastien Lafargue

Commenting on the upgrade, Yannick Assouad – executive vice president of Avionics at Thales – said: “Thanks to close cooperation between the DGA, Air and Space Force, Sabena Technics and Thales teams, the upgrade of the CN-235 avionics will give French forces a new technological edge. The enhanced capabilities, higher fleet availability and a lifetime extension beyond 2040 will bring real operational benefits to the French Armed Forces.”

Work under this contract is expected to be carried out in France, with Sabena Technics’ facility in Dinard and Thales’ sites in Bordeaux, Brive, Châtellerault, Toulouse, Valence and Vendôme.

AirForces Intelligence data confirms that France currently employs 27 CN-235Ms, comprising 19 CN-235M-200s and eight CN-235M-300s. The former variant is the older of the two and entered operational French service in February 1991, while the latter joined the FASF’s ranks in January 2012. This upgrade aims to keep the CN-235Ms operationally viable until at least 2040.