DRAGAR turret on the VBCI VCI variant. Note that turret cannot be fully rotated with driver hatch in the open position due to interference with weapon barrel.
The VBCI is a French 8×8 wheeled IFV designed to replace the aging AMX-10P. VBCI is an acronym for Véhicule Blindé de Combat d’Infanterie which translates to Armored Vehicle for Infantry Combat. Vehicles started to be produced in 2008 by Giant Industries and Renault VI. There are two variants of the vehicle, the VCI (infantry combat vehicle) and the VPC (command post vehicle). The VBCI was specifically designed to be able to keep up with the French Leclerc MBT. The VCIs have a unit cost of €3.5 million each while the VPC has a unit cost of €2.7 million each. The French built 510 vehicles of the VCI configuration and 120 vehicles of the VPC configuration to support their own military requirements. They also offer the vehicle for international sale.
The VBCI is an 8×8 wheeled AFV that is produced in two variants, the VCI (infantry combat vehicle) and the VPC (command post vehicle). The VCI weighs approximately 56,300 pounds (26 tonnes) while the VPC vehicle weighs approximately 51,300 pounds (23 tonnes). Both are approximately 25 feet (7.6 meters) long, 10 feet (3 meters) wide and 10 feet (3 meters) high. Both vehicles are operated by a crew of three with a commander, gunner and driver. Powered by a 550 hp Renault Diesel the vehicle has a maximum road speed of 60 mph (100 km/hr) and a maximum operational range of 470 miles (750 km).
The VCI is designed to transport troops to battle, accommodating 9 dismounts, and to provide them supporting cover fire with a 25 mm turreted cannon. The VPC vehicle carries 7 persons in addition to the crew who are provided with command and control stations. The VPC is not meant to directly engage an enemy and is therefore only equipped with a turret mounted 12.7 mm machine gun for self-defence purposes. The VBCI vehicles are able to be integrated with full French C4ISR systems to optimize communications and co-ordination of the vehicles with other French military forces.
The VCI vehicle is equipped with a M811 NATO auto-cannon situated in a DRAGAR type turret, manufactured by GIAT Industries. The turret provides seating for the gunner only, with the commander located in the vehicle hull. The 25 mm auto-cannon is fully stabilized and the associated fire control system has an integrated laser telemeter and thermal camera. The weapon fires the 25 mm x 137 mm round at a rate of up to 400 rounds per minute. The DRAGAR turret allows sufficient gun elevation to use the weapon in a self-defence mode to engage low flying and slow moving air threats. There is also a co-axial 7.62 mm machine gun as a secondary weapon and a Galix grenade launching system.
The VBCI vehicle consists of a welded aluminum hull and has a modular add-on-armor system consisting of THD steel and titanium laminated armor. The armor provides 360 degree all-around protection against 14.5 mm armor piercing incendiary (API) ammunition and is able to be retrofit and replaced under field conditions.
COMBAT-PROVEN FROM FRANCE
While numerous VBCIs are operating in Afghanistan, Lebanon and Mali with French Army units, the Délégation Générale pour l’Armement accepted on June 28 2013 the 500th vehicle of this type of 630 ordered. Importantly, since January 2013 vehicles are delivered with the Félin kit. The vehicle designed and produced by Nexter with Renault Trucks Defence (RTD) providing the automotive components is now well proven in its current configuration. Though developed to French specifications, Nexter decided to optimise performances and costs in order to make the vehicle more appealing on the international market, and within its “Le Grand Large” plan launched in early 2011 with the aim of reducing company product costs by 25%. The VBCI was thus the subject of a deep revision in order to provide customers with the performances they needed, avoiding over-performances, and at the same time optimising costs along the whole subcontractor chain, involving some re-engineering work to obtain the desired results.
According to Nexter officials the VBCI is now very competitive in terms of acquisition and life-cycle costs. In the meantime the vehicle has evolved in terms of weight. Current VBCIs are operating at 29-30 tonnes, though company vehicles being tested and proposed in numerous bids are now hovering over the 32-tonne mark. This allows to increase protection, reaching for example 4a/b for mine protection (a lesson learned from Afghanistan), as well as payload capacity for the installation of heavier turrets. The French Army is already considering an upgrade of part of its fleet, say 100-200 vehicles, a decision being awaited for late 2013-early 2014. The 32-tonne vehicle carried out a successful three-week testing in the desert. The automotive components remain mostly unchanged, the 550 Hp engine as well as axles and transmission being untouched with the exception of the shorter final gear that will lower top speed. The export version is equipped with an OpSys vetronic architecture and a 360° situational awareness system is installed, video distribution in the rear compartment being also available. As for power generation Nexter considers the current output sufficient for today needs, and is not considering any short term upgrade. The 32-tonne version was qualified two years ago and has since been demonstrated to some potential customers such as Canada and Denmark.
For Canada Nexter proposed in-house solutions for increased ballistic and mine protection, installed all along the vehicle. The requirement is for 108 vehicles plus an option on a further 30. In case of success most of the work will be carried out in Canada, since RTD being is in a position to produce in Canada via a company that is part of the Volvo group.
In Denmark, 206 vehicles are initially at stake with an objective target of 360 over a maximum number of 450 vehicles. In case of success 50% work will be carried out in France.
As for the United Arab Emirates numbers are much higher and production will be partly carried out locally, the unconfirmed target number being around 700 vehicles.
The UAE are however not the only target for Nexter in the Middle East, another undisclosed nation also tested the vehicle and is about to launch an request for proposals. Although not required by France, which ordered only the combat and the command post versions, numerous support versions are being offered to the export market by Nexter, such as engineer, mine-clearing and repair/recovery vehicles.
NEXTER has developed a series of new AFVs for the French Army. These include the 28-ton 6×6 multi-role armoured vehicle GRIFFON VBMR (Véhicule Blindé Multi-Roles), the 25-tonne infantry fighting vehicle VBCI (Véhicule Blindé de Combat d’Infanterie), and the JAGUAR EBRC (Engin Blindé de Reconnaissance et de Combat) reconnaissance AFV. The GRIFFON carries the lightest armament with a remotely operated, roof-mounted 40mm AGL. The VBCI fielded in 2009 with the French Army has a manned turret with a 25mm GIAT M811 autocannon; in 2015, NEXTER introduced the export-variant VBCI 2, armed optionally with either a manned turret with a 40mm CTAS autocannon and two turret-mounted MMP ATGMs or an unmanned turret with a 30mm gun. The JAGUAR, which is expected to enter service in 2020, is equipped with the same turret and 40mm gun/MMP configuration as the VBCI 2. The CTAS (Cased Telescopic Armament System includes not only the weapon but the mount, controller, and ammunition handling system. It is produced by a BAE/ NEXTER joint venture, and has also been procured for the British AJAX and WARRIOR armoured vehicles. CTAS is the world’s first operational autocannon system to fire cased telescoped ammunition, which encases the projectile and propellant in a singular tube; this system delivers significantly more explosive power than conventional munitions of the same calibre. Options include point detonating rounds against armoured or hardened targets, and airburst rounds against soft or airborne targets. The gun barrel can be elevated to 45 degrees, enabling engagement of light aircraft, helicopters and UAVs.