By Kim Seung-yeon
SEOUL, Sept. 10 (Yonhap) -- The French defense company Thales Group hopes to deepen cooperation with South Korean partners in the fields of cybersecurity and space technologies, taking the decadeslong partnership to another level beyond the defense and other conventional sectors, its senior executive has said.
Pascale Sourisse, senior executive vice president for international development, said South Korea's advancement and ambitions in digital technologies and mobile communications, make the country a "very important" partner and customer for Thales.
"Thales has three big branches: defense, digital identity and security, and aerospace. In all of these branches, we are having a lot of activities with Korean customers and partners," Sourisse said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency on Wednesday.
"It was important for me to visit Korea again, after the pandemic, because Korea is definitely a very important country for Thales," she said.
Dating back nearly 40 years, Thales has established an extensive presence in South Korea as a major provider of equipment and technology solutions for military programs and space satellite communications.
Thales is a longtime supplier of radars, sonars and fire control systems to the South Korean Navy, including the Goalkeeper close-in weapons system and the Flash dipping sonar that detects underwater targets in antisubmarine warfare.
Thales' space venture, Thales Alenia Space, has delivered communication satellites to local satellite operator KT Sat and is in the process of building the fifth one, the Koreasat 6A.
For Earth observation, Thales is working in partnership with the Korea Aerospace Industries and Hanwha Systems Co. to deliver a constellation of four high-resolution observation military radar satellites, known as the 425 project.
The majority of Korean Air's aircraft are equipped with Thales in-flight entertainment solutions.
In 2000, Thales and Samsung formed the defense joint venture, Samsung Thales Corp., now renamed Hanwha Systems. It was transferred to Hanwha Group in the 2015 "big deal" in which Samsung sold its petrochemical and defense businesses to Hanwha. In 2016, Thales sold its 50 percent stake to Hanwha.
During the two-day trip to Seoul this week, Sourisse said she had a string of meetings with officials from Samsung, Hanwha, LIG Nex 1 and KT Sat to discuss ongoing and potential future projects.
"We reviewed with each partner and customer the progress made in various initiatives," Sourisse said, without elaborating further.
"The same desire, to have a strong link, to know each other very closely so that we can have a strong relationship based on trust, in this regard, this visit has been extremely positive," she said.
Sourisse highlighted that Thales' push for cybersecurity offers a huge potential for an expansion of cooperation with South Korea, an industry leader in mobility connectivity.
In 2019, Thales acquired Gemalto, a Netherlands-based international security company, for 4.8 billion euros (US$5.1 billion), and combined it with existing digital assets under the new division of Digital Identity and Security. Most recently, Thales announced in July it would buy the U.S. cybersecurity company Imperva in a deal worth US$3.6 billion.
Thales is already engaged in active cooperation with Samsung Electronics Co. Samsung Galaxy phones are protected by its embedded secured elements, an autonomous, tamper-proof chip designed to limit access of stored information to only authorized people.
With the expansion of space telecommunication and navigation services, the importance of cybersecurity will continue to grow rapidly, and things are "evolving extremely quickly," Sourisse said, adding that Thales is in the "right position" to support South Korea in this domain.
"We see numerous opportunities to work together and expand not just in the domestic market but in the wider export market too," she said.
To be at the forefront of new technologies, Thales invests 20 percent of revenue in research and development (R&D) every year, one of its strengths that enables its active engagement with foreign partners like South Korea.
Sourisse said the traditional defense area is and will remain a major pillar of partnership with South Korea, noting the importance of modernizing solutions to ensure "a country's superiority versus its environment."
"For a country, it's always very important to have a strong network of suppliers that they can rely upon, and we're very happy to be a trusted partner of the Korean ministry of defense."