PARIS — The French procurement office awarded contracts to Nexter, Renault Trucks Defense and Thales on April 21 to build a first batch of 319 Griffon troop transport and 20 Jaguar combat vehicles.

The award follows the development of the Jaguar and Griffon vehicles ordered in December 2014. The Direction Générale de l'Armement spokesman declined to give a value for the contracts, which included logistical support and training. The aim is for first delivery of the Griffon to come in 2018 and of the Jaguar in 2020, the DGA said.

The Griffon is a six-wheel drive multi-role armored vehicle (known locally as véhicule blindé multirole), and the Jaguar is a six-wheel drive armored reconnaissance and combat vehicle (known here as engin blindé de reconnaissance et de combat).

The launch order for the Griffon and Jaguar confirmed vehicle production just a couple of days before voters on April 23 cast their first-round ballots in the presidential election, with the second and decisive round on May 7.

An order for a second batch will depend on the next administration and whether the future defense budget will fund a higher production sought by industry and the French Army.

"A crucial stage in the Scorpion program, the awarding of this conditional tranche will thus launch the production of these new vehicles after only 27 months of development," Nexter, RTD and Thales said April 24 in a joint statement.

An estimated unit price of a Griffon is about €2.2 million to €2.3 million (U.S. $2.4 million to U.S. $2.5 million), depending on the arms and equipment fitted, while the unit price of the Jaguar is €4.5 million to €5 million, an industry executive said. 

That estimated price of the Griffon sounded too high compared to the €1 million price target, while the price of the Jaguar "did not sound ridiculous," a second executive said. Work on the Scorpion program is split 45 percent for Nexter, 32 percent for RTD and 23 percent for Thales.

Besides the three partners in the temporary business group, Safran will supply opto-electronics, and the Jaguar will be armed with a 40mm cannon from CTA International — a joint venture between Nexter and BAE Systems — and MBDA medium-range missiles, the DGA said.

The French Army's order under the Scorpion initiative strengthens Nexter's order book, which helps the French firm in the KMW and Nexter Defense Systems joint venture, otherwise known as KNDS, with German partner Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, the executive said.

Senior figures from Parliament, industry and the Army have lobbied for a faster and fuller delivery to cut reliance on a mixed fleet of old and new vehicles.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Jean-Pierre Bosser told lawmakers in October that he preferred funds be spent on a quicker delivery of the Scorpion vehicles rather than spending money to upkeep the existing véhicule avant blindé, otherwise known as the armored vanguard vehicle — an armored personnel carrier and support vehicle.

The Scorpion budget is based on €6 billion over 11 years, with an initial €1 billion from the present 2014-2019 military budget law, and the Army and industry are lobbying hard to find the balance in the next multiyear spending.

Besides Griffon and Jaguar vehicles, the Scorpion program includes a light, multi-role vehicle, upgrade of Leclerc tank, battle management system, crew training with on-board 3-D simulation, and maintenance. The program marks the Army's attempt to ring fence a share of government spending by using the Scorpion brand name.

A total of 1,722 Griffons are due to be ordered, with a planned total of 248 Jaguars.

A tender is due this year for a four-wheel, 10-ton multi-role light armored vehicle, with an order for 358 units. The first vehicle is expected in 2021 and will replace the present light armored scout vehicle, known here as Véhicule Blindé Léger.