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In a surprise move, the French Government has suspended the privatisation of the state-owned Thomson electronics group following an adverse report from its watchdog privatization committee (PC). Previously, Thomson (comprising the Thomson SA holding company, Thomson Multimedia and Thomson-CSF) was to be to sold to France's Lagardère Group and South Korea's Daewoo Electronics. Under this arrangement, Daewoo would absorb Thomson Multimedia while the defense-oriented Thomson-CSF would merge with Matra Defense, Lagardère's own defense arm.
The PC report objects to Lagardère's plan to transfer Thomson Multimedia to Daewoo and its proposed merger of Thomson-CSF with Matra Defense. The committee's reservations about Daewoo reportedly centre on a perceived financial instability within the South Korean company and a lack of adequate guarantees concerning Thomson Multimedia's future under off-shore control. Daewoo is reported highly insulted by the decision. The French government has made it clear that the Thomson privatisation will continue since the privatisation is seen as a major step forward in restricting the French defense industry, but has not established a new schedule for the sale.
Despite this setback, the Lagardère Group will rebid for Thomson but it is uncertain whether or not the group's original competitor, Alcatel-Alsthom, or any other potential buyer will enter the fray. However, acquisition of Thomson Multimedia on any terms could be something of a gamble since the organisation is reportedly heavily indebted.
The successful launch of the Inmarsat 3F3 mobile communications satellite (scheduled for 17 December 1996 aboard a US Atlas 2A launch vehicle fired from Cape Canaveral, FL) is expected to expand the International Maritime Organisation's new-generation communications network to near full global proportions. When positioned at 179.5° east over the Pacific Ocean, the Lockheed Martin-developed, Matra Marconi Space-equipped satellite will join Inmarsat 3F1 (positioned at 64.5° east over the Indian Ocean and in service since 3 April 1996) and Inmarsat 3F2 (positioned at 15.5° west and in service since 13 October 1996) in what eventually will become a five-vehicle constellation.
The Inmarsat 3 payload is described by its manufacturer, Matra Marconi, as having a unique systems architecture eight-times more powerful than the one used in the Inmarsat 2 system. The approach used allows a single design to meet the spot-beam requirements of each orbital position within the constellation and includes the introduction of 700 g, 25 W solid-state power amplifiers; reconfigurable multiport transmit/receive L-band (1 to 2 GHz) mobile link antennas; and frequency-generation technology that provides flexible channelization. Operational performance is enhanced by dynamically sharing transmission power between the design's global beam and any of its seven spot beams according to real-time traffic demands. Overall, Inmarsat 3 is designed to provide global communications via land earth stations for users equipped with mobile and transportable terminals on ships, aircraft and land vehicles with support for Inmarsat's Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS). A dedicated onboard GNSS payload will enhance the accuracy, availability and integrity of positional data derived from the US Global Positioning System and the Russian GLONASS satellite navigation system to the point where it can be used safely for the next-generation civil aircraft navigation and air traffic management tasks.
In a somewhat bizarre turn of events, the two consortia bidding for the UK Ministry of Defense's (MoD) Bowman next-generation tactical battlefield voice and data communications system have announced an agreement in principle to offer a teamed third option for the programme. Bowman, the world's largest programme of its kind, will provide the British armed forces with a state-of-the-art tactical communications system scheduled for operation in 2002. Bowman equipment will be supplied to all three arms of service and will involve the integration of equipment into 30,000 vehicles as well as battlefield helicopters, amphibious warfare ships and, possibly, close support aircraft. Programme value is estimated at £2 B.
Currently, the programme is being bid by the ITT Defense-led Crossbow and Siemens Plessey Systems (SPS)/Racal Radio Yeoman consortia. The new third-option proposal is industry sponsored and has been received favourably by the UK MoD, who sees it as a possible means of bringing in a highly complex program on schedule. An SPS spokesman stressed that the new option in no way invalidates the desired competitive element of the Bowman programme (with competition being maintained at the subcontractor level) and offers the customer genuine advantages in improved system performance, cost savings, risk reduction and through-life enhanceability. The new option also offers the possibility of introducing private finance initiative funding, a UK government mechanism for involving private finance in state programs, while continuing to ensure the system's early in-service date. The tripartite agreement covers UK participation in ITT's military communications business in the US.
Netherlands contractor Philips Semiconductors is addressing the expanding digital media broadcasting (DMB) market with a new family of reception chipsets suitable for direct satellite broadcast and cable applications. The company now offers the model TDA8010AM mixer/oscillator (which it claims outperforms same-role GaAs devices), the model TDA8042 demodulator and the model TDA8043 one-chip satellite channel decoder.
With all three devices aimed at the 700 to 2150 MHz reception band, the TDA8010AM is billed as able to operate within the phase-locked loop of standard television tuners and to cover the entire band without the need for band switching. The TDA8042 unit is a two-chip solution that is able to handle symbol rates up to 32 Msps, and provides the intermediate frequency mixing and automatic gain control necessary to generate separate in-phase and quadrature baseband signals. The TDA8043 decoder digitizes the resultant quadrature signals and performs all necessary decoding to regenerate the transport packet data.
For the cable market, Philips has developed the single-chip TDA8046H multimode demodulator, which handles a wide range of modulation modes at symbol rates of up to 7 Msps, making it suitable for both North American and European applications. The chip features on-chip, square-root-raised cosine, half-Nyquist filters to remove unwanted harmonics from the baseband signal without phase error, and eliminates analog filtering. The TDA8046H can be used with commercially available cable tuners.
UK contractor Smiths Industries reports it is using the latest flat-panel active-matrix liquid-crystal display (AMLCD) technology to create the displays to be used in the British Aerospace Hawk lead-in fighter for use by the royal Australian air force. Forming part of an integrated avionics system, each twin-cockpit aircraft will be fitted with six identical AMLCDs that will be used to show flight navigation, weapon status and system symbology together with digital map and sensor data. Each display will have a 127 × 127 mm screen area and will be capable of showing high quality video color imagery generated by Smiths' display processors.
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