Scorpion: new vehicles for a new era
France’s new collaborative combat platform isn't just a networked system, but also involves a whole new fleet of vehicles. Harry Lye takes a closer look at the country's plans.
// A Leclerc tank (left with the Serval and Jaguar vehicles. Image: Nexter
France not only lifted the lid on its Scorpion networked ground operations system at International Armoured Vehicles 2020 but also showcased the new suite of vehicles that will form the backbone of its army moving forward.
The modernisation of the French Army’s fleet will cover a staggering 6,000 vehicles, including upgrades to existing platforms and replacing others entirely. New arrivals will include troop-carrying vehicles, infantry fighting vehicles, protected mortars and main battle tanks.
Here we take a look at some of the upgrades and new vehicles set to transform ground operations for the French Army.
Serval: lessons from Mali
The Serval 4x4 is one of the most ambitious acquisitions for the French Armed Forces. Alongside the Griffon, it will replace the existing fleet of Véhicule de l'avant blindé (VABs), which have been in service since the 1970s.
Named after Operation Serval, France’s military operation in Mali in 2013-14, the vehicle is set to become the ‘workhorse’ of the French Army delivering personnel across massive distances, at speed.
Capable of carrying a squad of eight, including a driver and a gunner, the vehicle features a V-shaped hull for increased blast resistance which is formed fully out of aluminium. Although this makes the vehicle more expensive, its manufacturers - Nexter-Texelis partnership – say it also makes it more blast-resistant.
With contracts signed in 2018, the first Servals will be delivered in 2022 and roll-out will continue through to 2032. By then the French Armed Forces will be operating around 2,038 of the vehicles, replacing two-thirds of the existing VABs.
The vehicle will come in 16 different variants, all of which are in simultaneous development, meaning they can be ordered and delivered as required. At present, the three known variants are the armoured patrol vehicle, tactical communication node, and surveillance, acquisition, intelligence, acknowledgement versions.
Griffon: transport, fire support and more
The other facet of the VAB replacement is the Griffon, built by a partnership between Nexter, Arquus, Thales and Renault Trucks. The 6x6 multi-role armoured vehicle or will work alongside the Serval to transport personnel and act as an ambulance or mobile command post, among a number of other roles.
France has ordered 1,872 of the vehicles across a number of variants, one of the most interesting being the MEPAC protected mortar vehicle, of which 54 have been ordered. This version will carry Thales's 120-mm 2R2M mortar system, allowing personnel to deliver fire support from the safety of the armoured vehicle, whereas in the past French forces would need to dismount to provide mortar support.
The MEPAC Griffons are slated for delivery between 2023 and 2027. Deliveries of the first lot of other Griffon versions began in 2018 and will continue for several years.
Supporting the modernisation push are 200 upgraded Leclerc main battle tanks, which will help the French Army maintain high firepower.
With deliveries expected between 2020 and 2022, the upgraded Leclerc will form a central role in the Scorpion concept featuring upgraded armour, a new remote weapons system, new sensors, grenade launchers and computer systems to allow the tank to interface with the other new acquisitions in the fleet.
Designed and built by Nexter, the upgraded MBTs will be built around the Scorpion platform, leveraging the higher firepower of the tank to support and cover the smaller vehicles.
Jaguar: reconnaissance and combat
A fleet of 300 Jaguar vehicle is due for delivery starting in 2021. The first lot will come with a suite of sensors to guide and protect a French armoured troop movement, including acoustic sensors, laser warning detectors and a missile launch detector to warn not only the personnel inside but also other vehicles in a formation of the impending threat.
Manufactured by a consortium of Nexter, Arquus and Thales, the vehicle shares a lot of its DNA with the Griffon platform and will replace the in-service AMX-10 RC reconnaissance vehicle and the ERC-90 armoured car.
Some 70% of the Griffon’s parts are interchangeable with the Jaguar, reducing through-life costs and making the manufacturing of both vehicles easier and cheaper in line with a commitment to keep the cost per Jaguar at under €1m.
At International Armoured Vehicles in January, the French Army said that the first Jaguars are already undergoing field trials ahead of their wider deployment across the armed forces.
The full force picture
Linked by the Scorpion collaborative platform, the new and upgraded vehicles will reshape the French Army’s ability to get to places fast, bringing heavy firepower and a host of systems along the way.
By the end of the decade, the Scorpion-enabled force will comprise 200 upgraded Leclerc, 1,872 Griffon vehicles, 2,038 Serval 4x4s, 300 Jaguars, 625 upgraded VBCIs, and a further 1,000 VBL LAVs for a total of over 6,000 pieces of armour.
Initial connected capability of the Scorpion system and the related vehicles is expected by 2025. In addition to delivering new and upgrade vehicles, the Scorpion programme also aims to allow the vehicles on the ground to interact with robots and unmanned aerial systems (UAS) to give French forces a more comprehensive picture of the battlespace during engagements.