PARIS — A letter of intent from Qatar for exclusive negotiations with Nexter has opened talks for various versions of the VBCI armored vehicle and an exploration of onboard systems, weaponry and services, according to three French defense executives.
The Gulf state has chosen the VBCI in a vehicle tender and signed the letter for talks with Nexter, the French Armed Forces Ministry said Dec. 9.
A lengthy Qatari competition led to a last round fought between the French state-owned land systems company and Patria’s armored modular vehicle, an executive said.
The three defense executives, one of whom works for a defense company and the others as consultants, spoke to Defense News on condition of anonymity.
Qatar has picked the VBCI chassis and will now seek to decide which of the 490 units will be fitted for missions including infantry fighting vehicle, troop carrier, reconnaissance, command post, mortar, and ambulance, a second executive said. Weapons and ammunition will require large budgets on top of the planned vehicle purchase.
Discussions on weapons will likely include a CTA International 40mm and Kongsberg 30mm cannon. Nexter and BAE Systems are joint venture partners on the former.
Other weapons to be pitched include remotely operated 7.62mm and 12.7mm machine guns, the second executive said. The MBDA MMP anti-tank missile could compete with the Lockheed Martin Javelin.
Lockheed has a strong presence in Qatar, and the U.K. unit will likely pitch its 40mm gun turret against the Nexter model, the executive added.
CMI, a Belgian firm, could also pitch its gun turrets, a third executive said.
There could be offers of mortar versions armed with TDA 81mm and 120mm weapons, according to the second executive.
Onboard digital systems will be offered for a battle management system and communications, such as those developed for the French Army’s Scorpion program, the second executive said.
Thales gave a Nov. 24 demonstration to armed forces of SYNAPS, the export version of its Contact software-defined radio.
A vehicle service contract will also need to be negotiated, which could lead to an “enormous Nexter service workshop,” the executive said. Service offers a steady income for decades.
Qatar has been keen for local assembly of the vehicle rather than receiving all the vehicles “built up,” the third executive said. One of the possibilities considered is a first batch of 100-150 built-up units, with the rest assembled in Qatar.
The 30-ton, eight-wheel drive VBCI will replace Qatari fleets of wheeled and tracked vehicles, including the French AMX-30 and AMX-10. Qatar has also ordered the Leopard 2 heavy tank from Krauss-Maffei Wegmann and Rheinmetall.
Nexter has completed delivery of 630 VBCI to the French Army and has been actively seeking export orders amid concern in the workforce that work was drying up at its site at Roanne, central France.
The French company presented the VBCI 2 export model at the DSEI trade show in London two years ago.
Qatar announced the pick of the VBCI along with exercising an option for a further 12 Rafale fighter jets, bringing the total order to 36.