Belgium Selects Piranha IIIs for $850M APC Contract, Controversies Ensue
In DID’s July 2005 article covering Belgium’s impending defense purchases, we noted that country’s Armoured Infantry Vehicle (AIV) program to replace its 132 Leopard 1A5BE main battle tanks, as well as its AIFV and M113 armored personnel carriers, with wheeled APCs. The contract was valued at up to EUR 800 million (about $1 billion) for 242 vehicles, in 7 separate versions that would include troop transport, combat engineer, commando, ambulance and logistic support missions. We also noted that a contract would “probably be awarded by the early months of 2006.”
Now a winner has just been selected from among the finalists (GD-Steyr’s Pandur II, GD-MOWAG’s Piranha III/LAV III, Iveco’s Centauro, and Patria’s Armored Modular Vehicle), a contract has been signed with Elbit for electro-optics and a 30mm remote weapons system – and a pair of controversies are brewing, plus a related DID article we can only describe as “Dude, Where’s My Pandur?”
The Winning Order
Key requirements for the AIV included on and off road mobility, crew comfort and safety, vehicle versatility, a high level of protection for the vehicle crews against mines and ballistic weapons, and integration of various weapon stations, electronic warning and communication systems. Some believed that Belgium’s existing fleet of Pandur APCs might give Steyr’s candidate the edge, but Belgium’s Council of Ministers recently gave the green light for the acquisition of up to 242 of MOWAG’s Piranha III armored vehicles.
The Piranha III is the original European version of the LAV III that forms the basis for the USA’s Stryker family (DID has covered the field reports re: the M1126 Stryker infantry carrier vehicle’s performance in Iraq). While MOWAG’s release was vague and said only that the order was “over EUR 500 million,” this Dutch language report in The Antwerp Gazette indicates a EUR 700 million ($850 million) contract for the vehicles and technical support, with a first fixed tranche of 138 vehicles and two additional ‘possible’ options of 81 and 23 vehicles. Delivery of the first 138 vehicles to the Belgian Army will take place from 2007-2012. Optional second and third batch vehicles would be delivered from 2012-2015.
The 242 Piranha IIIC 8x8s will be delivered in seven variants to solve specific operational tasks: APC, C30, Direct Fire Capability, Command Post, Engineering, Ambulance, and Vehicle Recovery. StrategyPage gives the breakdown as:
- 99 infantry carriers/ APCs
- 32 armed with a 30-mm autocannon
- 40 with a 90-mm cannon
- 24 command vehicles
- 18 engineer vehicles
- 17 recovery and repair
- 12 ambulances
Main vehicle sub-systems will include:
- CMI 90mm Turret (Direct Fire Capability variant)
- Elbit Systems 30mm Overhead Remote Control Weapon Station, which folds for air transport and can also be fitted with missiles for dual-fire capability (C30 variant).
- FN Herstal ARROWS 12.7mm (.50 cal) remote-control Overhead Weapon Station (APC variant, possibly others)
- Pearson Surface Mine Plough and Dozer Blade (Engineering variant)
- THALES Belgium Communication System
- OIP electro-optical aiming Systems and threat detection Systems for Lasers and Small Arms
Initial vehicles, MOWAG Driveline and Suspension systems and other components will be manufactured at MOWAG in Kreuzlingen, Switzerland, with the follow-on hull welding and vehicle assembly being conducted by MOWAG’s Belgian partners Jonckheere and CMI.
The MOWAG proposal further includes a comprehensive Industrial Benefit Programme worth 100% of the contract value in Belgian value added combining direct work, semi direct effort as well as a significant commitment to other industrial sectors through indirect benefits.
MOWAG notes that the industrial offsets program will be proportionally balanced between Flemish and Wallonian companies, as indeed it must in a country that is no longer a strict unitary state after the St. Michael’s agreement. To further underline the delicacy of the situation, a recent De Stemmenkampioen poll showed 51% of the Flemish region’s inhabitants indicating support for Flanders’ secession. Recent public complaints that the Airbus A400M program has seen 80% of its industrial benefits flow to Belgium’s southern Walloon districts haven’t helped matters. The new acquisition’s balance will be welcome, and its industrial benefits are scheduled to span the next 12 years.
Updates and Further Developments
January 11/07: DID article: Elbit Signs Contract for ORCWS APC Turrets on Belgian APCs. This EUR 44.8 million order covers only 32 ORCWS-30s for the Piranha III C30s, plus electro-optical systems (i.e. thermal sights et, al.) and electronics for the entire Belgian Piranha III fleet.
Feb 23/06: eDefense Online analyst Michal Fiszer offers additional background re: the military shifts underway, in “Belgian Army Converting to All-Wheeled Force.” Wayback Machine cache, so pictures and links on page won’t work; eDefense Online is defunct.
Jan 8/06: Elbit Systems and General Dynamics’ MOWAG subsidiary have signed a contract valued at EUR 44.8 Million (currently about $58 Million) to equip Belgium’s initial set of 138 Pirhana III wheeled armored personnel carriers. The ORCWS-30 shares a number of features with the RAFAEL RCWS-30 mounted on Czech Pandurs, including missile options and fold-flat features for air transport, but it isn’t the same system.
While this contract certainly includes ORCWS-30 remote-controlled guns and some electro-optics, there are still questions regarding the exact composition of the order.
In the wake of this recent award, however, a pair of APC-related controversies are brewing. DID’s invaluable Benelux reader David Vandenberghe has been of great assistance in helping us report on the Belgian aspects of the story.
The first controversy concerns the proposal to mount CMI’s 90mm cannon on the new vehicle, probably with the Mk8 gun and LCTS turret. The second controversy concerns the relocation of Belgium’s ‘cavalry school,’ and the third concerns the theft of 15 older Belgian Pandur APCs.
We’ll begin with the 90mm controversy.
Given the fact that the Piranha IIIs are explicitly meant to replace Leopard 1A5 main battle tanks with 105mm cannons, questions about the decision to use CMI’s 90mm cannon are only to be expected. Especially since Belgium’s strategic modernization plan reportedly calls upon the armed forces to also be able to handle ‘high intensity’ conflicts. A 90mm gun may well pose a firepower problem in such an event.
While MECAR touts “105mm-like performance” with its 90mm Mk8 ammunition, La Libre Belgique carried a French language article written by Joseph Henrotin concerning the 90mm gun issue, entitled “90mm Pour L’Armée Belge, C’est Léger” (“The 90mm Gun Is Too Light for the Belgian Army”). Yet the Belgian controversy goes deeper.
In December of 2003, Belgium’s federal department of Finance gave a negative advisement on arming Belgium’s 6×6 Pandurs with this same weapon (see this Army Technology page for a picture of a 90mm turret on a Kuwaiti National Guard Pandur 6×6 APC.). The gun apparently cost twice as much as a 105mm gun, and reduced interoperability with the 105mm caliber that equipped Belgium’s existing tanks and serves as the secondary “global standard” caliber for tanks and assault guns. It was also seen as a tactically unsound decision, for the reasons noted above. At the time, therefore, they saw no valid reasons to purchase the 90mm guns and install them onto the Pandurs.
These same guns are now being procured for the more advanced Piranha IIIs.
One possible angle may be seen by following the money.
CMI is the sole European producer of the Cockerill 90mm Mk 8 gun, with production in Seraing, near Liege in Belgium’s Walloon south. Yet CMI also makes a new 105mm turret called the CT-CV.
Washington, DC-based Allied Defense Group Inc.’s subsidiary MECAR, however, is the sole European company capable of delivering 90mm Mk.8 ammunition. MECAR’s Nivelles production facility is located between Brussels and Charleroi, is also considered to be part of the Walloon South, and just happens to be the Minister of Defense’s electoral district. David further notes that “the Parti Socialist (that the Minister of Defense belongs to) is tied to past DoD scandals including a Dassault bribe in the beginning of the 1990s.”
DID should note that the current Defence Minister Andre Flahaut was not one of those jailed or tried in conjunction with that scandal, whose investigation closed in the 1998. We bring up the scandal because it is recent enough to act as a further irritant and source of political distrust, hence relevant to understanding Belgium’s internal political situation as it relates to this purchase.
The Dassault scandal is not the only military-related sore spot. On October 27, 2005 the Belgian Minister of Defense announced that the ‘cavalry school’ (crew training for armored vehicles) will be relocated from its existing home in Leopoldsburg (in Limburg province, north of Hasselt) to Aarlen at Belgium’s very southernmost tip near Luxembourg. This is happening after investements had already been made to upgrade the training facilities in Leopoldsburg.
Per capita, Flanders transfers more tax money to Walloonia than Western Germans cough up for Eastern Germany, and base relocations like this can easily inflame hard feelings – especially if it’s accompanied by a related incident of questionable conduct, amidst an environment where support for secession is significant. Our Canadian readers might also know a thing or two about that sort of situation.
DID is not forecasting the breakup of Belgium here, but we are underlining the fact that defense procurement in that country has angles and considerations that differ from most other NATO countries in very important ways.
Dude, Where’s My Pandur?
The last controversy, however, is undoubtedly the strangest. Tt is the subject of a separate DID article we call “Dude, Where’s My Pandur?”
Ice-T says if it has wheels, you can ‘jack it. Guess it’s true.
- Brigand (Jan 23/08) – Het AIV contract herzien, doen!