PARIS — France has picked Nexter in a tender for a light multirole reconnaissance vehicle, dubbed “Light VBMR,” dealing a heavy blow to close contender Renault Trucks Defense, three executives said.
“Nexter has won,” a defense executive said Nov. 24.
The procurement office, Direction Générale de l’Armement, called Nexter last Friday with news of the selection, which is unofficial and allows the other competitors time to contest the decision, a second executive said. RTD received its letter this week.
The Armed Forces Ministry will eventually announce the award, which will boost Nexter’s share in the French Army’s Scorpion program, as the state-owned company is already a joint prime contractor for the Jaguar combat reconnaissance vehicle and Griffon multirole troop carrier.
Nexter and RTD declined comment. “The competition is still going on,” said a DGA spokesman, declining further comment.
The upper end of the range of unit price offered by Nexter in the tender was €900,000 (US $1.1 million), said the second executive, while the lower end was €700,000, the third source said. The DGA and French Army had set a requirement for a 10-ton, four-wheel drive vehicle with a high level level of protection and onboard electronics which hooked into a single communications and command network.
Industry officials replied that a more realistic weight was 15 tons, a fourth executive said, adding that a more realistic price range for a fully equipped and armed Light VBMR was €800,000-€900,000 per unit.
That pricing compares with a price range of €700,000-€900,000 for Nexter’s Titus, a six-wheel drive multirole armored vehicle, a fifth executive said.
Some 400 units of the Light VBMR are due for delivery by 2025 in the first phase of Scorpion, a first batch of a planned total 1,500 over a number of years, the second executive said. An option for a further 500 brings the total to 2,000 units.
RTD has previously signalled winning the Light VBMR deal was strategic to the company, which has supplied about 95 percent of light vehicles to the French Army. A major part of securing the contract is maintenance and spares over some 30 years of the vehicle’s working life.
The Light VBMR contract is seen with political significance by those close to Nexter and RTD.
Losing the tender “is a pity, but not catastrophic,” said an executive on the RTD side. RTD has other projects on hand and is active in exports which account for 40 percent of annual sales of €450 million. A failure would have been a “catastrophe” for Nexter, which relies on the Scorpion program.
Those on the Nexter side also see a political dimension, with RTD losing in part due to it being a unit of Swedish truck maker Volvo, a foreign ownership which cast doubt over its future. Nexter submitted a bid which met “100 percent” of the technology requirement set by the DGA, said a source close to Nexter.
A selection of Nexter was the government’s response to Volvo’s attempt to divest RTD, a key unit in the cancelled sale of the Volvo Group Governmental Sales division, the second executive said. Rival bidders CMI and KNDS had priced into their valuations RTD’s winning the Light VBMR deal when they submitted their offers for VGGS.
Now Nexter has effectively won the Light VBMR deal, RTD’s valuation has probably halved compared to the rival offers of some €400 million, the executive said.
Nexter, which specializes in systems integration and armored hulls, effectively submitted a concept vehicle, which will now be designed, developed, built and tested for delivery around 2021-2022. Texelis, based in Limoges, southwest France, is expected to supply the driveline.
The Light VBMR will complement the Griffon VBMR, with a first delivery of the latter next year in a planned total 1,722 units. The two vehicles will replace some 3,000 aging VAB troop carriers.
Thales teamed with RTD, with an offer based on the latter’s Bastion in the tender, an executive said.