Armor: France Does Stryker Lite

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March 13, 2018: In early 2018 France ordered 2,000 Light VBMR (Véhicules Blindés Multi-Rôles) vehicles. These will be delivered by 2030 with about 700 in service 2025. The whole procurement effort is worth around $2.5 billion and is another step towards transforming French army into a networked force. This is called the Scorpion program, an effort that began back in 2000 and now includes a unified communications and battlefield management system (BMS) for all army units. But first France needs a new generation of armored vehicles with the BMS built in (relatively easy) or added to existing vehicles (difficult and expensive). The first deliveries of Light VBMR basic patrol variant are expected to start in 2022.

The Light VBMR is basically a smaller variant of the earlier VBMR Griffon. The Light VBMR is a 15 ton 4 x 4 armored personnel carrier will replace (in army intelligence and reconnaissance units) the 1970s era 4 x 4 VAB APC variant and VBL. The Light VBMR can carry up to six soldiers equipped with FELIN system and will be produced in several variants like: ambulance, troop carrier, mobile command post, electronic warfare and ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance ) variant together with artillery fire control one. The vehicle will be armed probably with a remotely-controlled weapons station.

The new Light VBMR contract is another step for French armed forces to get closer to equip two Scorpion brigades by 2025. These will consist of three GTIAs (groupement tactique inter-armes) each a self-sufficient battalion sized force very close to EU battle group concept. The Light VBMR will join upgraded Leclerc main battle tanks, modernized VBCI infantry fighting vehicles, Jaguar EBRC and bigger Griffon APC. This ambitious plan is meant to transform French army into networked force of 21st century.

The original VBMR was ordered in 2014 and the first ones enter service in 2018. These are 25 ton 6x6 armored vehicles similar to the American Stryker. Most (82 percent) VBMR will be the Griffon infantry vehicle carrying three crew and eight infantry and armed with a remote control turret using a 12.7mm or 7.62mm machine-gun or 40mm automatic grenade launcher. There is also a recon version called Jaguar which is the next most numerous variant.

VBMR will replace the 1970s era VAB, which was initially a 13 ton 4x4 armored vehicle. Some 5,000 of these were built. There were improvements over the years, upping VAB weight to 16 tons or more. Since 2007 France has also bought over 600 new VBCI armored vehicle, which was intended to replace tracked IFVs rather than wheeled ones. Like most other European nations, France is replacing some of their tracked armored infantry vehicles with wheeled ones (like the U.S. Stryker). The VBCI is an 8x8, 25 ton vehicle with a crew of three, plus eight troops in the back. Armament consists of a 25mm autocannon, and a 7.62mm machine-gun. Like the Stryker, the VBCI has very up-to-date sensors and electronics. France is getting 550 of the infantry version, and 150 command post (more electronics, fewer people) versions. The VBCI will replace tracked AMX10 infantry vehicles. The VBCI vehicles cost about $5.5 million each and deliveries began in 2010. The VBCI is the “heavy” wheeled armored vehicle that complements the lighter VBMR.

Both VBCI and VBMR were influenced by the American experience with Stryker. The U.S. Army began deploying Stryker in 2005 and eventually formed nine Stryker brigades. These gained considerable combat experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. Stryker production was supposed to end in 2014, with 4,466 vehicles delivered since 2002. Most (96 percent) were actually delivered by 2012 and production continued after 2014 for export customers and upgrades of existing vehicles.

Each Stryker brigade has 332 Stryker vehicles. There are ten different models, but most are the infantry carrier version. The original Stryker cost about a million dollars each, plus the costs of weapons and equipment. Weighing 17 tons, Stryker has a top speed of 100 kilometers per hour and a range (on roads) of 500 kilometers. Stryker has a crew of two, a turret with a remotely controlled 12.7mm machine-gun, and can carry nine troops. A 7.62mm machine-gun is also carried and often another 12.7mm one as well.

The army is planning on incorporating the V shaped hull into the new Stryker 2.0 design. The Stryker 2 will weigh about a ton more than current models and have a more powerful engine (450 horsepower versus the current 350), plus a suspension system and other mechanical components upgraded to support up to 27 tons, larger tires, improved brakes, and improved sensors (so that troops inside the vehicle will have better awareness of what's outside). These are the major modifications, there will be several more minor ones (better air conditioning, a sniper detector, more electricity generation, and so on). Outwards appearance won't change much, other than the V shape hull (to better handle roadside bombs.).

Stryker 2 provides for "growth" (more armor and equipment) as well as making the vehicle more agile and reliable. The changes are based on user feedback and are considered a modernization project, not, strictly speaking, a new version of Stryker. Most of the 3,300 Strykers the army has in service have been in combat, and units headed for Afghanistan were the first to get the modernized ones. With all the budget cuts Stryker 2.0 has been stalled, perhaps forever. But in the meantime the extensive electronics used in Stryker (and the need to “boot” the vehicle rather than just turn the motor on) made all armored vehicles potentially a lot more than they have been in the past. This is what the French, and others, noted, as well as the innovative and effective tactics Stryker crews developed. -- Przemysław Juraszek

 


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