MADRID - Spain plans to acquire 348 "Piranha 5" 8x8 wheeled armored fighting vehicles from General Dynamics European Land Systems (GDELS) in a first phase of purchase, Secretary of State of Defense Vicente Conde told the national Congress.

He also added that in other phases of acquisition the total number of units for the Spanish Army could be around 1,000.

The Spanish defense ministry's No. 2 leader said that the total estimated budget of this program will be €3.8 billion (US $4 billion): €1.6 billion (US $1.7 billion) for the acquisition itself and €2.2 billion (US $2.4 billion) for the maintenance and modernization services during the 30 years of useful life of the program.

Three Spanish companies — Santa Bárbara Sistemas (Spanish branch company of GDELS), Indra and Sapa — are already developing a first research and development (R&D) contract of €89.2 million (US $99 million) in a temporary joint venture basis called "UTE VCR 8x8". Other R&D contracts will be approved in 2018 with the same budget.

The R&D program is developing six different technological projects related to security measures, situational awareness, long-range vision, fuel efficiency for engines, and command and control.

The objective of this national program is to obtain an 8x8 wheeled armored vehicle to replace the obsolete 6x6 wheeled Pegaso BMR after 40 years of service.

"The 8x8 armored fighting vehicle will be useful for today's hybrid threat environments, or for the vast majority of scenarios to which current security challenges will lead us. It is especially suitable for current low-intensity operations, especially in Africa", Conde said.

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