The name ‘Les Forges de Zeebrugge’ appeared for the first time. For strategic reasons based on the WWI experience, the Ministry of Defence forced the steel works "Ougrée-Marihaye" to move its weapon division. Therefore, new production buildings were built in Zeebrugge. Over a period of 8 years, the shells for grenades and metallic artillery ammunition parts were produced there.
Several bombings (12 in total, with the most devastating on 28th July 1943) by Allied forces unfortunately did not spare the company’s buildings. Due to their complete destruction, the production buildings were not rebuilt.
After WWII, FZ relocated its activities to Herstal and taking back its former roots in Liège. The company was very active in “offshore contracts” for the US Army as part of the Marshall plan.
Former General manager Jean Depouhon, who FZ owes their present vocation to, moved overseas to acquire the license from the US, for rockets. This enabled FZ to begin to manufacture the whole 2.75” (70mm) rocket under the US Navy license. This 70mm rocket rapidly became FZ’s key product and gave them worldwide recognition.
Acquisition of the Fort Evegnée production site from the Belgian Army. This fort is one of the twelve forts built as part of the fortifications of Liège in the late 19th century in Belgium. Fort Evegnée is mainly used for assembling pyrotechnic components, storage and testing purposes.
FZ is part of PRB ("Poudreries Réunies de Belgique") ammunition group financially supported by SGB (“Societé Générale de Belgique”).
FZ has introduced several new design features regarding rocket motors, warheads, fuzes and rocket launchers to improve the operational performance of the rockets. Improvements to the original Mk4 motor for aircraft use, and the Mk40 motor for helicopters, resulted in the FZ67 and FZ68 motors for aircraft and helicopter use respectively.
In the late 1980s, FZ focused on the development of new types of FZ warheads activated by a programmable remote setting fuze : FZ122 Flechette carrying 2200 flechettes and anti-vehicle warhead FZ149 MULTIDART carrying 36 darts to be used against light armoured vehicles in air-to-ground roles.
FZ had by now already been registered as the European leader of airborne rocket systems. In 1988, they joined the Thales Group within TDA to create the European pole of air-to-ground rockets in Herstal by joining skills and experience of both, TDA and FZ. FZ became a centre of excellence of one of the biggest players in the world in the fields of electronic munitions, land and airborne armament systems. This step enabled FZ to benefit from a strong international sales network, its international presence and infrastructure, R&D capabilities and other shared functions of the Thales Group.
Subsequently development of an improved rocket motor 70mm generation (FZ90).
Development and production of a portfolio of composite rocket launchers (FZ225, FZ231, FZ233) replying to the increased requirement for lightweight equipment for helicopters to increase payload and flight autonomy.
FZ received the ISO 9001 quality-assurance certification.
First successful firing of a FZ laser guided rocket FZ275 LGR on the NATO (TrÜbPl) firing range in Bergen with support of the German Armed Forces (Bundeswehr). The target (3mx3m) at 4.6 km distance from a platform was successfully hit with an accuracy of about 0.5m.
Deployment of different platforms in different international conflicts :
- German Tiger UHT (ASGARD configuration) in Afghanistan (ISAF mandate misson)
- AH-2 Rooivalk in Democratic Republic of Congo (UN peacekeeping mission MONUSCO)
Forges de Zeebrugge S.A. has changed its company name to Thales Belgium S.A. whilst keeping its protected brand names ‘FZ’ and ‘Forges de Zeebrugge’ for its commercial communication.
Airbus Helicopters has chosen Thales to integrate Laser Guided Rockets on H145M helicopters equipped with HForce. In November 2017, Airbus H145M completed HForce Weapons System Tests In Hungary including FZ rockets on FZ231.
In December 2017, the test firings of FZ275 LGR Laser Guided Rocket were successfully conducted on a H145M platform at the Älvdalen test range of the Swedish Defence Materiel Administration Flight test Centre, in an adverse and challenging environment.
In April 2018, Thales Belgium successfully accomplished a firing campaign of its FZ275 LGR Laser Guided Rocket on-board RMAF's (Royal Malaysian Air Force) HAWK and F/A-18 Hornet at Kota Belud (Borneo).
During the ACD 2019, Ammunition Capability Demonstration in South Africa, Thales Belgium showcased together with Rheinmetall Canada the capabilities of its Thales twin (7x) 2.75" FZ220 rocket launchers mounted on a Mission Master UGV (Unmanned Ground Vehicle).
Thales Belgium (BL VTS) today
Thales Belgium (BL VTS) employs approximately 75 people at Herstal site of whom about 25 work in Engineering, Research and Development. Although belonging to the Thales Group, the Business Line VTS (Vehicle and Tactical Systems) of Thales Belgium is a flexible and responsive structure always at the customer’s service.
Thanks to the strong partnerships they have entered into over the years, the BL VTS of Thales Belgium has been able to contribute to the creation and safeguard of more than 200 jobs in the Walloon region and, regularly transfers the manufacture of components to their qualified partners.
Its turnover positions them as one of the world leaders in this field.
All of Thales Belgium's personnel has been involved in the steps taken towards improving quality in its widest sense : paying attention to the client, “just in time”, development of skills and entrepreneurial mind. Thales Belgium's structure with a human dimension which is integrated inside a wide network of dynamic and reliable companies gives them unequalled reactivity, flexibility and creativity.