Accelerate Scorpion or upgrade VAB?

Doubling the production rate of the Griffon vehicle, developed as part of the Scorpion modernisation programme for the French Army, would only cause an annual additional cost of €27m.

The first VBMR Griffon prototype presented at Satory in July 2017

Or so believes the MP with the presidential majority La République en Marche (LREM), Thomas Gassilloud, rapporteur for the credits allocated to the land forces within the National Assembly’s Commission for National Defence and the Armed Forces. “Accelerating Scorpion is to anticipate a programmed expense, while regenerating the VAB creates additional expenses without subsequent savings in return,” argues Gassilloud.

An open secret, the obsolescence of the median segment of French armoured vehicles will certainly be at the heart of the next Military Programming Law. According to Gassilloud, it will be imperative to rule on the only two scenarios that can be envisaged: either extend – again and again – the lifespan of the VABs by modifying a larger number to the Ultima standard, or accelerate deliveries of Scorpion platforms. For the LREM parliamentarian, the choice is clear: “the circumstances […] plead in favour of an acceleration of the Scorpion programme.” Here’s why.

Developed with the aim of building a “buffer fleet” while waiting for Scorpion, only 290 of the 2,661 VABs have been upgraded to the Ultima standard. According to the Army Staff (EMAT), the increasing intensity of threats in external operations requires the modernisation of up to 460 additional VABs by 2025, including 240 for infantry and engineering and 220 other versions. Similarly, any modernisation will require the addition of future systems, including the Contact radio, and thus the integration of the vehicles in the “Scorpion bubble”. An expensive scenario, estimated at €334m for the Infantry/Engineering VAB, for a unit cost of €1.4m.

The Scorpion option is based on the industrial capacity of members of the GME Scorpion (Thales, Nexter and Renault Trucks Defense) and their subcontractors to increase the production rate. According to Gassilloud, this hypothesis would allow land forces to have 1,300 Griffons by 2025 instead of 800, and 143 Jaguars instead of the 110 planned. According to calculations by the EMAT, the forecast price of the Griffon has remained stable at €1.5m on average. The price difference between the production of a Griffon and the regeneration of a VAB is therefore “only” 6.7%. Taking into account operational maintenance costs and depreciation periods, “the possession of a Griffon is more economical than that of a modernised VAB,” says Gassilloud. The maintenance of the former would cost €156,600 per year against €183,200 for the latter.

In fine, doubling the production rate of the Griffon would cost a total of €680m. That is €188m more than the upgrade of the VAB, or an annual additional cost of less than €27m for the period envisaged. A clear difference, certainly, but that Gassilloud considers small “in view of the increase announced in the budget for the Ministry of the Armed Forces” by 2025. A gap all the more negligible that “the operational added value of Griffon and Jaguar is undeniable,” Gassilloud concludes. Now all that remains is for this line of thinking to be taken into account in the future military programming law.

 

On the GME Scorpion side, they have been saying for a while that they can double the pace to reach an annual rate of 220 Griffons and “50 or so” Jaguars, Stéphane Mayer, CEO of Nexter, said in July. Gassiloud believes, however, that increasing the rates could expose the industrialists to a double risk.

First, it implies “investments in infrastructure and human resources as well as increased use of outsourcing and transferring the work load between units of the same company,” says Gassilloud. In addition, accelerating shipments exposes industrialists to the risk of a “cliff effect”, i.e. a sudden collapse in the amount of activity.

A risky bet therefore that French industry can win by betting on the export markets, with the support of the State. As such, the “Belgian Scorpion” project currently under negotiation could bring a life-saving ripple effect if it materialises. Finally, the effort made by industrialists will be partially offset by winning a larger part of the MCO for Scorpion equipment, up to 40% according to the MCO-T 2025 transformation plan, for the next 30 or 40 years.