Ian Mccrudden, Chief Operating Officer for the European Training and Simulation Association (ETSA), interviewed Peter Hitchcock, Vice President of the Thales Training & Simulation business, about the recent acquisition of RUAG Simulation & Training and the key challenges they are facing to support training on the next generation of land, naval and air vehicles. Adapted by permission of ETSA.

Based in France (near Paris), Peter Hitchcock has held the post of Vice President of the Training & Simulation activity since January 2020. In his career spanning 32-years with Thales he has worked in operational and headquarters roles of increasing responsibility in both the UK and France. 

Prior to his current position, he was based in Toulouse as the VP responsible for Thales’ Civil Avionics Business. 

Using questions generated by ETSA members, Ian and Peter discussed Thales T&S capability, what drove Thales’s acquisition of RUAG S&T and what the future holds for the combined company. 

After undertaking exclusive negotiations, which started late in 2021, the international defence technology giant Thales has recently completed the acquisition of the Simulation and Training (S&T) business of Swiss company RUAG (originally Rüstungs Unternehmen Aktiengesellschaft). The acquisition will provide advanced training solutions and services for combat-ready air and land forces across the globe. 

ETSA: As you enter this new era, can you provide a thumbnail description of the scope of the Simulation and Training solutions which are now covered by Thales?

Thales/Hitchcock: The three main areas in which we are active are:

  1. Development and support of simulators for military air, land and naval markets;
  2. Development and operation of civil helicopter simulators; and
  3. Provision of operational training services to armed forces.

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, ETSA members have seen a step change in the way people have been trained with the introduction of working from home, remote online learning through webinar tools, remote assistance tools and the integration of augmented and virtual reality into training solutions.

ETSA: Where do Thales’s strengths lie?

Hitchcock: The first is our ability to support our customers, whatever it takes. This was particularly striking throughout the Covid crisis: our engineers and instructors, our products and systems all continued to deliver, and no training days were lost. 

Then there is our ability to couple technical expertise with operational knowledge. For instance, we’re currently delivering complex rear-crew mission trainers for the French Navy (Atlantique 2) and Royal Navy (Crowsnest), drawing on not just our simulation expertise but also the mission expertise we have in the Group. 

At a time when there is an increased demand for national sovereignty, being able to capitalize on Thales’s global footprint is key, whether through local units or joint ventures. We were recently awarded a training contract in Poland, a success which can be attributed to the local presence of Thales in Poland.

From recent media reports, ETSA members have noted that the consolidation of the RUAG S&T business will see around 500 people joining the Thales Training & Simulation business from various locations in Switzerland, France, Germany and the United Arab Emirates. 

ETSA: What does the acquisition of RUAG Simulation & Training bring to Thales?

HitchcockRUAG S&T is a major player in live training, covering everything from prime contractor responsibilities to the individual sensors used as well as delivering the services at combat training centres. They also have excellent land simulation product lines. By combining our expertise, we can accelerate the development of live and constructive training to create the best possible training environments. 

This is timely because many armies are going through force modernization programmes. They are introducing a step-change in capabilities which also requires them to transform how they train on new equipment, vehicles, and C4I (Command, Control Communications, Computer, Intelligence) systems to obtain even more insight, higher levels of performance and also addressing cost and environmental constraints through merged live and virtual systems.

That is why the CERBERE programme, on which we teamed with RUAG S&T, was introduced alongside the deployment of France’s SCORPION modernisation programme.

The capabilities offered by RUAG S&T in Switzerland, France, Germany, and the UAE will create opportunities with new and existing customers, and with the support of Thales’s global network we have ambitious objectives which we can share with local partners.

ETSA: How would you sum up what this move represents? 

Hitchcock: Thales and RUAG S&T are very complementary with little or no overlap. The partnership is coherent and the logic is clear: RUAG S&T are “live” specialists whereas Thales background is primarily in “virtual” technologies. Coming together brings mutual reinforcement, greater critical mass and allows us to accelerate the convergence of technologies to build the next generation of hybrid live, virtual and constructive training solutions.

Future synthetic training devices will be required to be linked together to provide an integrated environment for forces to train and rehearse missions collectively with a mix of aircraft, land and sea forces. This will require complex multi-force training exercises using real-world high-fidelity visuals, mission software, battle tactics, and fast networks potentially being linked across the globe to other allied assets.

ETSA: What do you see as the key technological drivers in the Training & Simulation business?

Hitchcock: A major trend is the increasing crossover of immersive gaming technologies to the professional environment, including progress in graphics and a reduction in the cost of hardware. Importantly, gaming technologies have brought massive multi-player environments where people can team up over huge distances to work collectively. Take the operational environments of our customers: individuals rarely work in isolation; they rely on team members, coalition assets, remote sensors as well as open-source information. Therefore, training needs to be able to match that.

ETSA: And finally, what are your next steps?

Hitchcock: With the formal acquisition process completed, the next step will be to initiate the integration of the two companies to create a more efficient business, while ensuring the continuity of activities and operations for the benefit of our armed forces customers.