The French intend to replace special forces vehicles, including the Panhard VPS. (Panhard)
PARIS — A French order for a fresh batch of light special forces vehicles would cost some €40 million (US $55.3 million), seen as a relatively small amount and vital for equipping the elite units, an industry executive said March 26.
“In budget terms, that is ‘zero,’ ” the executive said. The special operations forces hold a “privileged” position as France increasingly relies on the units for overseas interventions.
The special operations forces allow Paris to project power on the ground, a capability seen as “very political,” the executive said.
A €40 million amount was based on ordering 100 vehicles at a unit price of €400,000. That is seen as an affordable figure despite the government’s commitment to cutting €50 billion from the national budget.
A contract this year is important, as no new defense orders are expected in 2015, the executive said.
Last year at a trade show and conference, named Special Operations Forces Innovation Network Seminar, or SOFINS, Renault Trucks Defense displayed its Sherpa light special forces vehicle fitted with a pintle-mounted Nexter 20mm gun.
RTD, a unit of the Volvo group, pitched the Sherpa for the tender, aiming to replace an aging fleet of P4 SAS vehicles and 51 Panhard VPS (véhicule protégé SAS) for the special forces.
Heavy use has worn out the VPS, the executive said. The vehicles were bought in 2008.
A replacement order could come from the Direction Générale de l’Armement (DGA) procurement office or the Army’s maintenance department.
Know-how of a systems approach will be key as the deal is expected to include armaments, communications and jamming systems for the vehicle.
The government is also expected to launch tenders this year for a troop carrier and a light tank.
Those two vehicles would launch the Army’s long awaited Scorpion program, seen as needed to modernize the land forces.
In the Mali campaign, dubbed Serval, French troops battled guerrilla fighters who were using pickup trucks armed with the Russian 14.5mm gun, which has a range of 1.2 kilometers, greater than that of the 12.7mm, or 0.50-inch, NATO standard weapon.
The lessons learned from Serval fed into the requirements for the light special forces vehicle. Other Army acquisition plans include a light tactical vehicle, véhicule léger tactique polyvalent, replacing the P4 jeep and other vehicles. ■