The French Army has secured a long-awaited launch of the €5 billion (US $6.1 billion) Scorpion modernization program, with partners Nexter, Renault Trucks Defense (RTD) and Thales winning some €752 million of work to develop two key armored vehicles, defense officials said.

"It is almost €752 million I am committing today … to cover the development work for these two vehicles," Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Dec. 5. Le Drian was speaking of the véhicule blindé multirole (VBMR), a six-wheel troop carrier, which he said is named Griffon, and engin blindé de reconnaissance et de combat (EBRC), a six-wheel combat vehicle, named Jaguar.

"Work starts on Monday [Dec. 8]," Le Drian said, according to spokesman for the Direction Générale de l'Armement procurement office.

Export prospects and an industrial restructuring of the land weapons sector were tied to the vehicles, Le Drian said. Development work will account for almost 1,000 direct jobs, while production will maintain 1,700, he said.

The government invested almost €200 million in feasibility studies and industry, including Safran's Sagem, worked together since 2010 to prepare for the program's launch, he said.

Top executives of the three companies received the award of the work at Varces.

Nexter will work on the chassis, RTD on the engine and driveline, and Thales on electronics and communications systems.

Securing a key role in the Scorpion program is a boost for Nexter, which is negotiating an alliance with Krauss-Maffei Wegmann under a plan dubbed KANT — KMW And Nexter Together.

Development studies will kick off the first stage of the 10-year first phase of Scorpion, Army and DGA officers said. A €5 billion budget has been set for the first phase, which runs to 2025, an Army officer said.

The Army declined to give details of the production contracts, other than to say it will schedule the orders by batch.

The program aims to deliver 92 six-wheel heavy VBMRs by 2019, with the first of the four-wheel light VBMRs in 2021. The program outline is set in the 2014-19 defense budget and reflects the white paper on defense and security.

Army and DGA planners have set a total target of 2,080 VBMRs, of which 1,722 will be the heavy and 358 light vehicles. An initial batch of 780 heavy, 200 light VBMR units, and 110 EBRC fighting vehicles are in the first phase.

The balance of VBMR and EBRC deliveries is scheduled for the second phase.

The first phase comprises six elements: heavy VBMR, EBRC, light VBMR, Leclerc tank modernization, a single communications network dubbed système d'information et de combat Scorpion (SICS), and a training simulation capability in the vehicles.

The heavy VBMR will have a fully laden weight of 24.5 tons, which compares to 27-32 tons of the véhicule avant blindé (VAB), an armored personnel carrier that entered service in 1976. The Army operates a fleet of some 3,900 VABs. The light VBMR will weigh 10 tons and replace the scout cars véhicule blindé leger (VBL) and petit véhicule protegé.

The heavy and light vehicles will carry remote-controlled 12.7mm or 7.62mm machine guns, while the former could fit a grenade launcher. Both vehicles will have modular design, capable of fitting kits. Six versions are planned for the heavy VBMR, including a basic troop carrier, command post, medical and 120mm mortar carrier. The command post vehicle is expected in 2019.

That compares to 36 versions of the VAB, built by Nexter and RTD.

The heavy VBMR is "revolutionary in design," a DGA officer said. Nexter and RTD worked on demonstrators for the heavy VBMR, focusing on mobility and ergonomics, while Nexter worked with MBDA on a turret demonstrator. RTD is a unit of Volvo.

An EBRC fighting vehicle with fully laden weight of 25 tons will be armed with the 40mm cannon from CTA International (CTAI), a joint venture between BAE Systems and Nexter, an anti-tank MBDA missile moyenne portée (or medium-range missile), and a 7.62mm machine gun. The cannon, which will fire compact cased telescoped shells, will have a range of 1,500 meters, while the missile will reach 3,500 meters.

Britain and France granted qualification this year of the CTAI gun and ammunition.

The EBRC, which will replace the AMX 10RC, Sagaie ERC 90 and VAB HOT, will also have a modular design, to be adapted with mission kits.

Army planners drew on lessons learned and set requirements for the onboard electronic systems to deliver a faster reaction time, allowing crews to speed up detection of threats and firing weapons. Rather than a technology break, the service wants a robust system and a vehicle simpler to service, a key concern in view of staff cuts.

For instance, the heavy VBMR will have its engine in the front for easier access, rather than the véhicule blindé de combat d'infanterie, which has its motor in the middle.

The SICS will replace five separate networks; the program is expected to be operable with allies and link up the vehicles with fighter jets and attack helicopters.

In 2021, the Army expects to equip a combined task force with some 100 VBMRs, and two years later a brigade composed of a task force equipped with the new troop carrier, and a task force with the combat vehicle.

The Scorpion program's launch is three years late, as the previous six-year budget failed to stick to targets from the prior defense white paper, the previous Army chief of staff, Gen. Bertrand Ract-Madoux, told the French Senate defense committee in September 2013.

Ract-Madoux also said there are big cuts in the new vehicles.

The previous six-year budget set a target to equip two regiments with the EBRC and almost 1,000 VBMRs in 2020, he said. The present plan is to equip just one cavalry troop with the EBRC and deliver 200 VBMRs by the same date, he said.

In the UK Army, a cavalry troop comprises four armored vehicles.

"The accumulated lateness cannot be made up," Ract-Madoux said. Further delays or fewer vehicles will lead to "a broken capability," he said. ■


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