SingaporeThe long-delayed SEA 1905 mine countermeasures and sea survey program is a step closer to achieving an outcome with the shortlisting of Saab Australia and Exail.  While not officially confirmed to APDR, it seems clear that the loser is Thales, who have been unexpectedly dropped.  It will probably take Defence another 12 months to select a preferred bidder.

The decision is a little surprising because in industry circles the offers from Saab and Thales were considered the ones most likely to get up.  This is no reflection on Exail, just that the other two are well established in Australia and both have a proven track record of delivering systems and services to the RAN.

While Exail are strong in Europe – especially France – they are less well known here.  The company was created in 2022 through the merger of iXblue with the ECA Group.  Both companies have a history in underwater robotics, navigation and survey.  Exail has around 1,500 employees and a turnover of $400 million.

It is a bit too early to speculate on why Thales Australia were eliminated.  Created in the 1980s to deliver the ‘Scylla’ sonar suite on the Collins submarines they went on to expand their activities by also providing the underwater warfare system on the Anzac frigates.  For a couple of decades, they were the dominant force in Australian naval underwater technology, sometimes to the discomfort of smaller industry players.

This decision will undoubtedly hurt the company, particularly as it follows hard on the heels of the unannounced Defence decision to spend $310 million on a fully imported US towed array system called SURTASS.  APDR has called this decision scandalous – a view apparently shared by the entire Australian underwater technology sector, which has the capacity to do the work locally.

It could be that Thales were underbid.  Or it could be that Defence took the view that there was some technical overlap between the bids from Saab and Thales, meaning that eliminating one of them made sense. Whatever the reasons, they are unlikely to be ever shared with the public.

PHOTO: Crew members of HMAS Gascoyne launch a Double Eagle Mine Disposal Vehicle during Exercise OCEAN RAIDER. (DoD photo)


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Kym Bergmann is the editor for Asia Pacific Defence Reporter (APDR) and Defence Review Asia (DRA). He has more than 25 years of experience in journalism and the defence industry. After graduating with honours from the Australian National University, he joined Capital 7 television, holding several positions including foreign news editor and chief political correspondent. During that time he also wrote for Business Review Weekly, undertaking analysis of various defence matters.After two years on the staff of a federal minister, he moved to the defence industry and held senior positions in several companies, including Blohm+Voss, Thales, Celsius and Saab. In 1997 he was one of two Australians selected for the Thomson CSF 'Preparation for Senior Management' MBA course. He has also worked as a consultant for a number of companies including Raytheon, Tenix and others. He has served on the boards of Thomson Sintra Pacific and Saab Pacific.


  1. Thales also lost to Exail for the same Belgian-Dutch market. Probably Thales did not invest enough. Exail is not well known by french people but it’s a serious company and very important for french nuclear missiles.


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