The French Army had quit the project because it alone among the original partners was seeking a with a wheeled vehicle able to operate alongside its Leclerc tanks. The army plans to order 700 VBCIs: 550 IFVs (designated the Vehicule de Combat d’Infanterie) and 150 command vehicles (Vehicule Poste de Commandement). The army subsequently wants to field specialist variants including anti-tank, mortar and engineer variants as well as a mobile gun system which may be armed with a large calibre cannon fed by a bustle mounted automatic loader.
The 28 tonne IFV, designed to be carried by the A400M aircraft, has a crew of three – commander, driver and gunner and carries eight infantrymen in the rear troop compartment. The IFV is fitted with Nexter’s Dragar one-person turret armed with a stabilised M811 25mm dual-feed cannon and 7.62mm coaxial machine gun. An FN Herstal remote weapon station mounting a 12.7mm heavy machine gun will arm command variants. A layer of titanium armour is fitted to the VBCI’s all-welded aluminium hull to protect against medium calibre threats. Under French government contract Nexter is developing an add-on armour package that should be ready in early 2008 to protect against RPG-7s and similar threats. The army will receive its first production vehicle in 2008.
Whereas both ARTEC and Nexter submitted prototype vehicles for the UK’s ‘Trials of Truth’ evaluation Mowag of Switzerland, part of General Dynamics European Land Combat Systems, submitted the Piranha Evolution, a updated Piranha, as the prototype of the Piranha V being offered to the UK will not be completed until 2008. General Dynamics UK, which is leading the FRES marketing effort, stresses the new vehicle will benefit from being the latest member of the most successful wheeled AFV family produced in the West.
Variant Mowac Piranha I, Piranha II and Piranha IIIC 8x8 APC Made Switzerland
The Piranha is also known as the LAV following its selection of the 8 x 8 Piranha I by the US Marine Corps for its Light Armored Vehicle project in 1981. The most numerous vehicle in USMC service is the LAV-25 which carries a two-man turret armed with a M242 25mm cannon The GDLS – Canada factory in London, Ontario produced 758 vehicles from 1983 to 1988 and is now building 130 new LAV-A2 for the corps. The factory was established to build 491 6 x 6 Piranha Is for the Canadian Army and the service has since bought 199 8 x 8 Bison APCs, 203 8 x 8 Coyote reconnaissance and surveillance vehicles, and 751 LAV IIIs including 480 vehicles with 25mm gun turrets.
Other customers for LAVs built by GDLS – Canada include:
• the Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG) which purchased 1,117 8 x 8 LAV Is in 12 variants including 73 vehicles mounting the BAE Systems 120mm Armoured Mortar System and 130 assault guns fitted with the CMI Defence CTS two-person turret armed with the Cockerill Mk 8 90mm gun.
• the Australian Army which bought 257 LAV IIs to equip its reconnaissance regiments
• and, the New Zealand Army which acquired 105 LAV IIIs to mechanise its infantry battalions.