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Corporate Research

From missiles to radar

Omnisys invests 20% of revenues in R&D to develop weapon, satellite and radar components

From left to right: Gustavo Sukadolnik, Thiago Kaneshiro, Sergio Forcellini, Lionell Collot and Carlos Mitikami

Léo Ramos From left to right: Gustavo Sukadolnik, Thiago Kaneshiro, Sergio Forcellini, Lionell Collot and Carlos MitikamiLéo Ramos

If everything goes as planned, the Brazilian Navy is expected to launch the first prototype of its national anti-ship surface missile, known by the acronym MAN-SUP, in 2017. This weapon is considered crucial for a modern, well-equipped navy, alongside aircraft carriers and submarines for defense. Few countries in the world have mastered the technology to manufacture one. Development contracts for the Brazilian missile were signed by the Navy and Brazilian high-tech companies in late 2011. Omnisys, based in São Bernardo do Campo, in the São Paulo metropolitan area, was selected to provide the seeker, a radar on board the missile to ensure it hits its target. “We are proud to be part of a program that is so important to Brazil. Developing this equipment for the first missile of its kind made in Brazil is an extremely complex undertaking and one of our most important projects here at Omnisys,” says Lionel Collot, 46, director of engineering.

With a degree in aeronautical engineering from the École Nationale Supérieure de L’Aéronautique et de L’Espace in Toulouse, France, and work experience with aircraft manufacturer Airbus and Direction Générale de l’Armement (DGA) of the French Ministry of Defense, Collot has for the last two years been leading a team of 70 technicians and engineers responsible for Omnisys laboratories’ innovations. The company was founded in 1997 by three electronics engineers, Luiz Henriques, Jorge Ohashi and Edgard Menezes, who worked for several years at Elebra, one of the largest electronics companies in Brazil in the 1980s. In the beginning, Omnisys acted as a service provider focusing on systems for aeronautical, naval and meteorological applications. In 2001, it changed its corporate mission and added industrial electronic and mechanical manufacturing activities. It has grown ever since. Revenues jumped from R$700,000 in 2001 to R$23 million four years later, reached almost R$80 million in 2012, and are expected to grow 30% in the coming year.

Prototype tracking radar operation console at the Alcântara Center

Léo RamosPrototype tracking radar operation console at the Alcântara CenterLéo Ramos

In 2006, control of the company passed to the French multinational Thales, a world leader in defense, security, aerospace and transportation technology. Present in 56 countries, Thales (formerly Thomson-CSF) has 67,000 employees, a third of them engineers and researchers, and all companies in the group, including Omnisys, spend approximately 20% of revenues on research and development (R&D). In 2012, the group’s revenues totaled €14.2 billion (R$42.6 billion) and the amount invested in R&D totaled €2.5 billion (R$7 billion). Brazil is the epicenter of the multinational’s Latin American infrastructure, and will soon represent more than 50% of business on the continent. “The first contact between Thales and Omnisys began in 2001, when the group sought a Brazilian partner to install air traffic radar systems in the country. Then in 2006, the two companies launched a joint program to develop a new family of long-range air-traffic control radar systems and establish the Brazilian industrial infrastructure needed to manufacture these radars for both the Brazilian and global market.

“This decision was made in recognition of Omnisys’ technical skill and leadership in the microwave, electronics, defense and radar industries. From that point on, the partnership grew stronger until the company became a branch of Thales in Brazil,” says Collot. Since then, the French company has invested around €120 million (R$360 million) to transfer technology so that the Brazilian engineers at Omnisys could absorb it, and then manufacture, integrate and test their radars in São Bernardo do Campo.

A Thales employee since 1999, Lionel Collot worked on aviation equipment development at the group’s French headquarters, located in Vendôme, for 10 years before being sent to Brazil to lead the branch’s engineering department. During this period, the company took part in several projects, including one that involved the supply of systems for jets produced by the Brazilian company Embraer. In slightly-accented Portuguese, Collot explains that Omnisys’ research and development department is divided into three sectors: electronics and software; microwaves and analog circuits; and the design office, responsible for layout and documentation of innovations. “In these three sectors, we have six main lines of products under development. In addition to the MAN-SUP seeker, we have designed and built tracking radars, air traffic radars, sonar for submarines, equipment for the navy and satellite components. A systems engineer is responsible for overseeing each project.”

Engineers Thiago Kaneshiro and Sergio Forcellini are part of the team of 25 researchers who are designing the missile seeker for the Brazilian Navy. Kaneshiro, 30, joined the company in 2005 as an intern while studying electrical engineering at the Polytechnic School of the University of São Paulo (USP). “My first project at Omnisys was developing a telemeasurement station for the Alcântara Launch Center in the state of Maranhão. I worked on that project until 2007, at which point I had already been hired. Then, I was a member of the team responsible for a component of the China-Brazil Earth Resources Satellite, Cbers—more specifically, the X-band transmitter antenna that sends images taken by the satellite to ground stations. In addition to the transmitter antenna, Omnisys’ participation in the Cbers project also involved design and construction of a data collection sub-system, a sub-system for image transmission and an on-board computer for handling data. Contracts for the supply of these components, which will come to an end this year, total R$53 million.

Telecommunications engineer Sergio Forcellini, 52, a researcher in Omnisys’ microwave and analog circuit department, works on developing the seeker’s receiver. This part is responsible for receiving and amplifying the signals emitted by the radar transmitter and reflected by the target—in this case, the ship to be destroyed. “Before this project, I worked on a digital frequency discriminator, a device capable of identifying the frequency of signals from existing radar transmitters near a ship. Based on these signals, the equipment identifies whether a ship is friend or foe,” says Forcellini. With master’s and PhD degrees in electronic systems from the Polytechnic School at USP, the researcher began his career at the telecommunications company NEC do Brasil.

Tracking radar electronic synchronization board

léo ramosTracking radar electronic synchronization boardléo ramos

Another important Omnisys area of activity is the development of meteorological, air traffic control and tracking radars—the latter are used to identify the trajectories of rockets, missiles and aircraft. “We are currently updating the control and telemetry systems of 24 tracking radars for customers in Brazil, France and French Guiana,” says Collot. Here in Brazil, two radars at the Alcântara Launch Center and two others at the Barreira do Inferno Launch Center, in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, are part of the deal. In French Guiana, two units at the Kourou Space Center, used to launch the French Ariane rockets, are being modernized, and in France Omnisys is updating 18 units installed by the Ministry of Defense along the southern and western coasts of the country to monitor missile and rocket launches.

Leading the radar modernization work is electrical engineer Gustavo Sukadolnik, 33, manager of systems engineering. “I started working at Omnisys in 2008, updating the embedded software and control board on the tracking radars it had developed. We were chosen to update the equipment in French Guyana and France due to the knowledge we had accumulated over the years. We have never built a tracking radar from scratch, but we have this capability because we know how to develop all the needed sub-systems,” says Sukadolnik. The researcher, who has traveled to France 25 times in the last five years to supervise the radar updating work, also coordinates the seeker project team. This radar, he explains, starts operating only after the missile is launched, in the final approach to the target. “If the ship moves, the role of the seeker is to adjust the route of the missile so that it hits its target.”

Weather intensity
Omnisys’ radar manufacturing experience began in 2005, when it became the first company in Brazil and Latin America to develop a kind of Doppler weather radar operating in the S band, with a range of up to 400 kilometers. The project received funding from the FAPESP Innovative Research in Small Businesses Program (Pipe) three times, and once from the Program to Support Research in Small Business (Pappe-Pipe), a partnership between the Foundation and the Brazilian Innovation Agency (Finep). The difference between a Doppler radar and a conventional one is that the former is able to determine the intensity of the meteorological phenomena. It can measure the speed and direction of clouds and rain—whereas a conventional radar determines only the volume of rainfall in a given location and has an average range limited to 100 km (see Pesquisa FAPESP Issue No. 117).

Electrical engineer Carlos Mitikami, 36, head of the Omnisys microwave and analog circuit department, was one of four researchers responsible for the Doppler radar project. “My first job at the company was to make small modules for the tracking radar at the Alcântara center. They track the rocket launch and check that it is on the programmed path. When we finished the project, I started working on developing the Doppler radar receiver,” says Mitikami. “We need to keep constantly up to date because we develop products that are made by a only a few companies in the world.” Before joining Omnisys, he worked at Ericsson in São José dos Campos, in the state of São Paulo.

Omnisys participated in several Cbers Satellite projects

Léo RamosOmnisys participated in several Cbers Satellite projectsLéo Ramos

Omnisys has also obtained Finep approval for several other projects. In 2006 it designed and built a new generation of radars for civil and military air traffic control, with the effective transfer of technology from Thales. Since then, it has manufactured 30 units, which were sold to the Brazilian government and exported to Latin America, Europe and Asia—in all, Omnisys has sold its products to customers in nine countries, including Mexico, Argentina, Pakistan and France. Omnisys’ newest endeavor is the development of sonar equipment. “We are establishing the first center of excellence in underwater acoustics in Brazil. To this end, we are bringing in employees from France who will assemble the team and provide training,” says Lionel Collot. According to him, an international program called Cifre-Brasil was created this year, involving the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) and its French counterpart—the Agence National pour la Recherche Technologique (ANRT)—with the objective of training doctoral students in this field. “Two Brazilian researchers will be sent to France to obtain doctorates in 2014. While there, they will have contact with Thales, and when they return to Brazil they will work at Omnisys” says the company’s engineering director. To train its employees, Thales has five research and technology centers around the world, in Singapore, France, Canada, the UK and the Netherlands, in addition to a training center, Thales Université, near Paris. The company has a portfolio of over 5000 products and 13,000 patents—350 of them obtained in 2012.  

1. S-band transmitter for Doppler meteorological radar system (02/07909-0); Grant Mechanism Innovative Research in Small Businesses Program (Pipe); Coord. Jean Claude Lamarche, Omnisys; Investment R$ 167,228.00 (FAPESP).
2. Set of S-band antennas for Doppler meteorological radar (02/07910-8); Grant Mechanism Innovative Research in Small Businesses Program (Pipe); Coord. Luiz Manoel Dias Henriques, Omnisys; Investment R$ 286,804.60 (FAPESP).
3. S-band receiver for Doppler meteorological radar (02/07911-4); Grant Mechanism Innovative Research in Small Businesses Program (Pipe); Coord. Jorge Hidemi Ohashi – Omnisys; Investment R$ 250,092.40 (FAPESP).
4. Set of S-band antennas for Doppler meteorological radar (04/13928-2); Grant Mechanism Pappe-Pipe – Program to Support Research in Small Business; Coord. Luiz Manoel Henriques, Omnisys; Investment R$ 498,400.00 (FAPESP).