France Finally Kickstarts Scorpion Land Vehicle Acquisition
April 26/17: The French government has placed orders for two types of newly-designed armored vehicle platforms as part of the SCORPION program. Thales, Nexter, and Renault Trucks Defense will deliver over 300 models of the Griffon , a 6×6 multi-role personnel carrier, and the 6×6 Jaguar, which is armed with a 40mm gun and anti-tank missiles. The exact order by the French procurement agency, DGA, for 319 Griffons and 19 Jaguars, comes just after 27 months of vehicle development. Paris is likely to use the Griffon to replace the VAB Hot personnel carriers currently used by the French Army, while the Jaguar will replace the army’s wheeled light tanks.
In 2009 France was planning to start delivering by 2015 new multirole armored vehicles to replace a variety of aging infantry vehicles starting, within a large modernization program called Scorpion. But the 2010-14 multiyear budget relied on a number of rosy assumptions that were soon disproved by reality, and the Scorpion program was one of the mismatch’s casualties, along with plans to start working on a second aircraft carrier.
Promises were made again in the next 5-year budget plan, while maintenance costs kept increasing to sustain vehicles offering an underwhelming mix of limited protection, autonomy, and mobility. French defense manufacturers also started to sound the alarm as Scorpion became increasingly vital to prevent factory closures. The French DGA defense procurement agency paid heed to their plea and issued a tender limited to national manufacturers. By the end of 2014 the ministry of defense finally initiated the 1st procurement tranche of a program expected to last beyond 2025.
On one hand, the expected turnaround from prototype to delivery in 4 to 6 years is tight and will put pressure on contractors, though they started some early conceptual work in 2010. On the other hand this still amounts to a late and light production schedule for the rest of the decade.
The Scorpion Acquisition
This major program intends to rationalize a hodgepodge of aging land vehicles and systems while preserving France’s industrial base. The 2 main vehicles in this program share a common chassis and will offer protection from mines and IEDs and ballistic threats at NATO’s STANAG 4569 Level 4. There’s been no public information on engines yet.
The main components of the planned, full acquisition are:
- 1,722 véhicules blindés multi rôles (VBMR)
Dubbed “Griffon”, VBMRs will replace Véhicules de l’avant blindé (VAB) 4×4 infantry carriers acquired starting in 1976 and upgraded in the late 90s. While the ubiquitous VAB turned into 36 variations, no more than a handful of VBMR variants should be created, between troop transport, medical, command/control, and artillery observation purposes.
The 6×6 designs will weight between 20 and 24 tons, with a remotely-operated 7.62mm or 12.7mm machine gun or a 40mm grenade launcher. Deliveries should reach 780 units by 2025. The infantry transport version will carry 8 troops in addition to the crew of 2.
- 248 engins blindés de reconnaissance et de combat (EBRC)
Dubbed “Jaguar”, EBRCs will replace AMX10RC and Sagaie light tanks, as well as VABs in their HOT antitank configuration, to perform combat and reconnaissance missions. These legacy vehicles lost mobility and autonomy with upgrades, but their design remains vulnerable to current threats, and they have become expensive to maintain given their average age. VABs for instance grew from an initial 13 tons to about 16 tons in the latest Ultima configuration.
Jaguar is a 6×6 wheeled 25-ton design with a crew of 3. For armament it will be fitted with a 40mm cannon jointly developed by Nexter and BAE with a 1,500m reach, a remote-controlled 7.62mm machine gun, and MBDA’s MMP (3,500, reach). Deliveries should reach 110 units by 2025.
- 358 lightweight VBMRs
This 10-ton 4×4 design will replace 4-ton Véhicules Blindés Légers (Light armored vehicles) procured since 1990. Deliveries between 2021 and 2025 should reach 200 vehicles.
- The Système d’information du combat SCORPION (SICS)
This common communications platform will replace 6 separate legacy systems, starting in 2016.
- 200 overhauled Leclerc XL tanks
This looks somewhat like an extraneous graft in this program, so that France doesn’t give up entirely on what’s left of its battle tank fleet.
Contracts and Events
April 26/17: The French government has placed orders for two types of newly-designed armored vehicle platforms as part of the SCORPION program. Thales, Nexter, and Renault Trucks Defense will deliver over 300 models of the Griffon, a 6×6 multi-role personnel carrier, and the 6×6 Jaguar, which is armed with a 40mm gun and anti-tank missiles. The exact order by the French procurement agency, DGA, for 319 Griffons and 19 Jaguars, comes just after 27 months of vehicle development. Paris is likely to use the Griffon to replace the VAB Hot personnel carriers currently used by the French Army, while the Jaguar will replace the army’s wheeled light tanks.
June 14/16: The French government has pledged $6.7 billion over 11 years for the Army’s Scorpion modernization program, with more being sought by both the Army and industry members involved. Aspects of the program include the delivery of 780 Griffon multirole troop carriers and 248 units of the light multirole Jaguar combat vehicle by 2020. Also included is an upgrade of the Leclerc tank, a battle management system, crew training with onboard 3D simulation, and maintenance.
Dec. 5/2014: Development contract. French Defense Minister Jean-Yves le Drian announces the phase 1 award in the Scorpion program, in line with commitments made in the 2014-19 defense budget planning law known as LPM. This 1st tranche, worth €752 million ($932M). Deliveries will start in 2018. Nexter, Thales and Renault Trucks Defense (RTD) have partnered to form a temporary consortium for the purpose of this program. Safran will provide optronics, and as noted above, CTA International (a Nexter-BAE joint venture) and MBDA will contribute the most significant weapon systems.
Jan. 16/2014: Préférence nationale. Les Echos reports that the DGA procurement agency restricted its tender to French manufacturers, and cited article 346 of the European Union Treaty to exclude bids from other member states.
Sources: Les Echos: Blindés : l’armée lance un appel d’offres de plus de 2 milliards d’euros | EDA: Article 346 of the TFEU.
Nov. 9/2011: industrial team. Nexter and Renault Truck Defense sign a cooperation agreement to jointly manufacture VBMRs.
Feb. 22/2010: initial decision. An inter-ministerial investment commission approves the start of Scorpion’s research and development phase.
Readings and Sources
- French MINDEF – Official Scorpion presentation [PDF, in French]
- DGA – Scorpion [in French]
- Nexter – 40mm Cased Telescoped Armament System (CTAS): Cannon (CT C).
- France’s DGA – Le canon de 40 mm à munitions télescopées CTCA (Cased Telescoped Canon and Ammunition).