Thales was the world’s 16th largest arms companies with $9.8 billion of arms sales in 2021, just over half its total sales. It was the fourth largest arms company in Europe.
Thales is 26% owned by the French state and almost half its employees are in France. However, it also has substantial production in many other countries including the UK, the US, Australia and Germany (Universal Registration Document, page 127).
Thales has four “operating segments”:
- Defence & Security: sensor systems including radar and sonar; airborne targeting pods; tactical radio communication systems; command & control systems; armoured vehicles; naval systems; missiles; drones (including the UK Watchkeeper drone)
- Digital Identity and Security: “securitisation and identification”, including biometrics. Thales claims to be “the world leader in the Digital Identity and Security market”
- Aerospace: military and commercial avionics and space systems (including the Thales Alenia Space joint venture with Leonardo)
- Transport: primarily rail transport
Thales has 6,500 employees in the UK, where its military production includes sonar, radar, unmanned systems (including the UK Watchkeeper drone, produced through a joint venture with Israeli arms company Elbit Systems), electronic warfare, avionics, training & simulation, communications, and advanced weapons, including the STARStreak missile system.
Thales is one of three major arms companies (along with Leonardo and Airbus) that play a particularly critical role in militarising Europe’s borders.
Thales manufacturers maritime surveillance systems for drones, provides the security system for Calais, and has researched how to track and control refugees before they reach Europe (The Business of Building Walls). Its Watchkeeper drone has been used by the UK army to “tackle the increasing number of small boats” crossing the Channel.
Thales UK also provides aerial surveillance systems for maritime border surveillance, and biometrics for border controls.
Thales is involved in several armoured vehicle programmes, including Bushmaster (image above). Bushmaster vehicles have been sold to Australia, Indonesia (for Kopassus, the Indonesian Special Forces), Jamaica, Japan and the Netherlands. They have seen operational deployment in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Thales is a major supplier for the Rafale combat aircraft, accounting for 25% of its value. The company’s electronics are integrated into Rafales supplied to France, Egypt, Qatar and India.