Avancez Mes Radios!

Contact radio
France’s Contact programme sees a host of new radios entering service across the French Army, and the rest of the country’s military, including the NCT-T vehicular transceiver shown here. Thales is moving ahead with the development of a backpack radio as part of the programme which will have commonality with the NCT-T.

New versions of the Contact tactical radio are in the offing for the French military, while the country’s Ministry of Defence is expected to soon launch a procurement programme for a new HF transceiver.

Thales is the prime contractor for the French armed forces’ Contact tactical communications system which rolls out a raft of new transceivers and capabilities, most of which are for the Armée de Terre (French Army). The army is to retire its legacy Thales PR4G Very/Ultra High Frequency (V/UHF: 30 megahertz/MHz to three gigahertz/GHz) radios which entered service from 1990. These transceivers will be replaced with new dual band 30MHz to 108MHz, and 225MHz to 512MHz handheld and vehicular radios.

The five watt/W handheld Contact radio is known officially as the ESR-P (Equipement Radio Standard-Portatif/Handheld Radio Terminal). The Contact vehicular radio is officially designated the NCT-T (Node de Communications Tactique–Terrestre/Land Tactical Communications Node). An airborne radio (ERS-A) is in the offing and will be rolled out across France’s fleet of military aircraft. Thales officials recently shared with Armada that the company is developing a backpack Contact radio. This new transceiver is expected to enter service in 2027, the officials continued. The 20W system will have a similar configuration to the NCT-T and will carry similar waveforms.

France’s Direction Générale de l’Armement (DGA/General Armaments Directorate) procurement agency awarded a contract to Thales to fulfil the Contact requirement in 2012 with production commencing in 2019. Open sources state that circa 25,000 radios across all types could eventually be manufactured and delivered. Thales says that it will produce an average of 100 radios per month at its site in Cholet, western France.


Contact radios will carry several waveforms. Importantly, from an interoperability perspective, they will have the pan-European ESSOR (European Secure Software Defined Radio) wideband networking waveform. French army sources have told Armada that the ESR-P and NCT-T will carry the French version of the waveform. This latter version of ESSOR is known as ESSOR-VF. While ESSOR-VF will support multinational and coalition operations, the radio’s new CONVERT waveform is for exclusive French use. Like ESSOR-VF, CONVERT carries voice and data traffic. North Atlantic Treaty Organisation waveforms like SATURN (Second Generation Anti-Jam Tactical UHF Radio For NATO) will be included in the Contact radios. SATURN primarily carries air-to-surface/surface-to-air traffic. Furthermore, the Contact transceivers are outfitted with a Blue Force Tracking waveform.

Export variants of the Contact transceivers sans French national encryption and government waveforms, known as Synaps, are in production. Synaps is equipping the Belgian armed forces. Spain will also receive Synaps with Indra and Thales collaborating on the acquisition. Having these armed forces use a similar radio system to Contact will help further enhance pan-European interoperability.

New HF Radio

Field testing of the Contact radios has been successfully completed. The first examples were delivered to the army in September 2020. Deliveries have been continuing since then with Contact undergoing, and passing, operational evaluation in December 2023. The PR4G is being phased out while Contact deliveries continue with the former expected to leave service by the end of 2025, according to army officials.

Contact forms part of a wider overhaul of French military radio communications. Beyond this programme, French troops are receiving new Personal Role Radios (PRRs). These will replace Safran’s RIF-NG PRRs equipping the force’s Fantassin à Équipement et Liaisons Intégrés (Integrated Infantryman Equipment and Communications) ensemble. Meanwhile, plans are afoot to equip the French Army with a new High Frequency (HF: three megahertz to 30MHz) radio based on Thales’ HF XL. HF XL is already in service with the Marine Nationale (French Navy). Two variants are under development for the army, namely 400W and one kilowatt transceivers. Thales sources shared with Armada that a contract to procure a new French Army HF radio is expected from the DGA in 2025.

by Dr. Thomas Withington