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
September 25/19: UGVs The French Armed Forces Ministry ordered 56 Nerva and Caméléon Unmanned Ground Vehicles from Nexter, associated with ECA, on August 26, 2019 for the Army’s Scorpion program, the Direction Générale de l’Armement (DGA) – the French armament procurement agency – announced. The agency said the light UGVs would contribute to the protection of dismounted soldiers in all kinds of environments, allowing them to counter potential threats at greater ranges. Equipped with different mission modules, the UGVs will allow engineers and infantry to gather intelligence regularly, the DGA added. The order is for three types of UGVs, all equipped with day/night cameras and a microphone: the 3 kg Nerva S reconnaissance, 5 kg Nerva LG extended reconnaissance, and 12 kg Nerva XX/Caméléon LG engineering UGV.
July 17/19: Scorpion Role-Model for Belgium According to Thales, Belgium selected the company for onboard intelligence and data capabilities of its Land Forces. The CaMo contract awarded by the French defense procurement agency (DGA) on behalf of Belgium includes 60 Jaguar reconnaissance and combat vehicles (EBRC) and 382 Griffon multi-role armored vehicles (VBMR). As with France’s Scorpion program, under this contract Thales is in charge of common combat vetronics, including communications, onboard computing and decision support solutions, and perimeter vision, self-protection and navigation systems.
July 10/18: Mk 3 in full production French defense manufacturer Arquus is now in full production if its Mk 3 6×6 Vehicule de l’Avant Blinde (VAB). The latest model is a reconnaissance and combat vehicle and is fitted with a retractable mast-mounted sensor pod that includes day/thermal cameras and a laser rangefinder. It is equipped with a remote weapons station that can also be found on the French Army’s Griffon armored personnel carriers. Development of the Mk 3 VAB is part of France’s multi-year and multi-billion Scorpion land acquisition program. The Mk 3 has an average weight of 20 tons and is powered by a 370 hp diesel engine.
June 19/18: Hornet RCWS unveiled Jane’s reports that France’s Arquus Hornet remote controlled weapon system (RCWS). The newly developed system will equip the future French Army’s fleet of armored fighting vehicles. Arquus is already a protected vehicle and integrated support market leader, and a major player in the Scorpion program. The Hornet range RCWS are highly dependable and deliver optimum connectivity, with the tactical situation being displayed on screen. The most basic version, called the Hornet Lite, will be armed with a 7.62 mm machine gun (MG) provided with 400 rounds of ammunition. The standard Hornet RCWS can be armed with a 7.62 mm MAG58 with 1,000 rounds of ammunition, 12.7 mm M2 HB MG with 300 rounds, or a 40 mm automatic grenade launcher (AGL) with 64 grenades. Ammunition is stored in a box magazine on the left side. The Griffon APCs will field the Hornet from 2019 and will be followed by the Jaguar reconnaissance vehicle from 2021.
June 12/18: Make it double, please! France is ordering more Light-VBMR reconnaissance vehicles. The new ordering agreement provides for an additional 420 Light-VBMRs, which increases the total amount to 978 units. The vehicle is a key element in the French Army’s $12 billion Scorpion modernization program. This major program intends to rationalize a hodgepodge of aging land vehicles and systems while preserving France’s industrial base. VBMR-L will be produced by a consortium that includes Nexter, Thales, and Renault Trucks Defense. The 15-ton vehicle is designed to carry 10 troops and can be deployed in several configurations. Including a Troop Carrier, Scout (ISR), Communications and Electronic Warfare (EW), Ambulance, Command, and artillery fire direction configuration. The vehicle is armed with a remote controlled 7.62mm machine gun, a minigun at the rear and self-protection with a Galix smoke dispenser and can be airlifted by C-130 and A400M transport aircraft. The first batch of VBMR-L vehicles funded by the current order covers the development, production, and induction of 689 vehicles by 2025.
November 28/17: Tender Award French government-owned weapons manufacturer Nexter has won out against a unit of Swedish-owned Volvo—Renault Trucks Defense (RTD)—in a tender to design and produce a light multirole reconnaissance vehicle, dubbed “Light VBMR,” for the French Army. The winning firm was informed unofficially last week ahead of the eventual official announcement by the Armed Forces Ministry. The vehicle is being procured as part of the French Army’s Scorpion program, where Nexter are already involved as joint prime contractor for the Jaguar combat reconnaissance vehicle and Griffon multirole troop carrier. Despite having earlier highlighted the strategic importance of winning the competition, an RTD exec said that losing the Light VBMR deal “is a pity, but not catastrophic.” 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 ageing VAB troop carriers.
August 9/17: France’s Scorpion modernization program is likely to suffer a funding hit as Paris looks to skim $1 billion off this year’s defense budget. The comments were made to Parliament by former chief of staff Army Gen. Pierre de Villiers prior to his resignation on July 19. “If we do not receive the required funding, we will need to postpone this program, with all the consequences that will entail,” he said, adding that Contact—a key software-defined radio used on the program’s vehicles—is expected to be a casualty. Thales supplies the Contact system and is an industrial partner with Nexter and Renault Trucks Defense on the Griffon troop carrier as well as the Jaguar reconnaissance and combat vehicle being developed under the Scorpion program.
July 26/17: France placed its new Griffon multirole troop carrier on public display during this year’s Bastille Day celebrations on July 14. The Griffon featured in the parade was one of two prototype vehicles undergoing certification tests by the French Army and Direction Générale de l’Armement (DGA)—its procurement office—with four more currently on order with manufacturers Nexter, Renault Trucks Defense and Thales. The same group is also developing the Jaguar, a combat vehicle designed to share common equipment with the Griffon. Both vehicles are being developed under France’s Project Scorpion—a $6.8 billion multi-company modernization effort that aims to replace all of France’s frontline fighting vehicles with improved platforms linked with a new and unified communications and battlefield management system (BMS).
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]
* France’s DGA – Le canon de 40 mm à munitions télescopées CTCA (Cased Telescoped Canon and Ammunition).