War profiteer of the Month: Thales

A Watchkeeper 450 drone in flight
A Watchkeeper 450 drone in flight. Credit: made available at http://www.defenceimagery.mod.uk for reuse under the OGL (Open Government License).
Andrew Metheven

Thales is a French company, part owned by the French government, that builds a vast range of radars, sonars and electronic surveillance satellites, tactical communication systems and combat management systems, drones, helicopter avionics, armoured vehicles, mortar systems and missiles. Thales was listed by SIPRI as the 10th biggest arms manufacturer in the world in 2016, with $8,170 million worth of arms sales making up 50% of it's total sales. Thales employs 64,100 people, and has operations in over 50 countries around the world.

EU lobbying

Over the last five years, Thales has spent over a million euros on EU lobbying over the last five years. Thales is a member of the European Organisation for Security (EOS), an organisation of defence and security companies that lobbies the EU for funds and to influence the bloc's approach to defence and security. EOS has put a lot of emphasis on programs like EUROSUR, the EU's overall border surveillance system, bringing together different countries data in real time. Arms companies like Thales were instrumental in EUROSUR's development, and will continue to profit from it into the future.

According to the report Border Wars, Thales has received €6,966,736 in funds from the EU for it's participation in 23 different research and development projects. In 2012, working in collaboration with the Spanish company Aerovision, the company introduced a new surveillance system for coastal and marine borders in the form of a drone called FULMAR which was specifically introduced and tested during a three day demonstration for FRONTEX, the European border agency. In 2014, Thales responded to a tender from Turkmenistan for a satellite-based monitoring system for the countries border with Afghanistan, though it wasn't revealed who eventually won the contract.

Nuclear weapons

Thales is also involved in building key components for the French nuclear weapons system. In 2004, alongside arms companies Airbus, Safran, SNPE and DCNS, Thales signed a €3 billion contract to build new M51 missiles for French nuclear submarines. Each M51 carries between six and ten thermonuclear war heads, and were first deployed in 2010.


Thales, working with Israeli company Elbit, developed the Watchkeeper 450 surveillance and reconnaissance drone for the British military. The UK ordered 54 Watcheekper 450 drones in 2007 at a cost of £800 million, including the cost of new facilities at Boscombe Down airfield in Wiltshire. The project ran heavily over budget and over time, and by 2015 the drones were expected to cost £1.2 billion depsite only seeing the equivalent of 2 days active duty time per drone. The Watchkeeper 450 was based heavily on Elbit's Hermes 450 drone, which has been used extensively by the Israeli military in Gaza.

In 2017, France's defence procurement agency announced they had ordered 105 Spy'Ranger drone systems from Thales, at a cost of €104.3 million. The Spy'Ranger is a "mini unmanned aerial vehicle" system, capable of transmitting high-definition imagery in real time to support military ground forces with reconnoissance, target acquisition, and surveillance. The French government's contract with Thales includes 10 years of maintenance, and the drones will be delivered between 2018 and 2019.

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