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Success story: SMS and the VAB: the way is clear for further models.

Success Story: SMS and the VAB The Way Is Clear for Further Models

The tasks of Renault Vehicules Industriels' Defence Equipment Division (DDE in French) are to conceive, design and market vehicles for the French and other armed forces. As the French Army's main supplier of ground vehicles (tactical vehicles, logistic vehicles, armoured wheeled vehicles) and also tank engines, the DDE also serves the needs of the major public utilities. It counts some thirty or so foreign armed forces among its clientele.

More specifically, the export sales of the VAB and VBC armoured vehicles -- the Vehicule de l'Avant Blinde and the Vehicule Blinde de Combat -- are the responsibility of the Societe des Materiels Speciaux (SMS) -- Special Purpose Vehicle-subsidiary of Renault Vehicules Industriels and Creusot-Loire Industrie, which is attached to the DDE.

When the VAB programme was adopted by the French Army in 1974, Renault Vehicules Industriels (formerly Saviem) and Creusot-Loire were entrusted with its manufacture, Renault V.I. as main contractor producing the mechanical parts for the VAB and later on for its combat version, the VBC, while Creusot-Loire undertook that of the armoured hulls and final assembly. At the time the programme was adopted the two parent companies decided to set up a special body charged with the actual export sales of the various VAB, and later VBC, versions. This is how was born in 1974 the SMS, a subsidiary half-owned by Renault V.I. and Creusot-Loire Industrie.

The SMS is divided into three divisions:

* The Commercial Division gathering together the geographical representatives, each responsible for a given market sector, to which is attached the demonstration team.

* The After-Sales Service, responsible for the supply of spare parts and technical assistance. Depending on the size of the vehicle fleet, technicians may be posted to it permanently or for a set period.

* The Financial Division, responsible for the accounts and financial services.

Turned initially in the main towards the Middle East -- the Abu Dhabi Police Force has recently ordered four VAB/VMOs (VMO=Vehicule du Maintien de l'Ordre or Riot Control Vehicle), thus increasing its fleet of vehicles from 20 to 24 -- SMS's commercial policy is now to concentrate on South-East Asia and Latin America. The contract signed with the Sultanate of Brunei for the supply of 26 VABs with a dual VAB/VMO role, of which the first dozen units have just been delivered at the beginning of February, has helped to launch the vehicle in Asia. Serious contacts are under way with Malaysia and Thailand. Discussions are taking place concerning a 500-vehicle project for Pakistan, which, if it comes to anything, may lead to technology transfer. The only firm represented in the initial evaluation trials, Renault V.I. is now competing with Engesa for this market.

Major contracts will more and more depend on technology transfer, and this will require all Renault V.I.'s attention. A local manufacturing contract concerning the VAB was on the point of being concluded with Algeria in 1985-86.

Among the wheeled armoured vehicles in the 12 to 15 tonnes category produced in the Western world, the VAB is the one of which the greatest number of units has been built, approaching 4800, of which 3800 for the French Army and almost 1000 for export.

In the course of its lifetime the VAB has seen its versions multiply. Highly efficient computerisation has greatly aided the commercial management of the VAB/VBC's 35 versions, which are available with a large number of optional equipments. SMS can thus boast that it can come up with an offer within a few minutes in response to any specific demand. Among the most notable achievements are the following:

* the VAB Mephisto with retractable anti-tank missile launcher and under-armour reloading

* the VDAA TA 20/23 mm vehicle armed with a twin 20 or 23 mm gun, optionally with air defence missiles

* the VAB PC RITA (Reseau Integre de Transmissions Automatiques) signals command vehicle

* the VBC TTB 190 equipped with a SAMM turret mounting a high-pressure 90 mm gun.

As regards the more recent versions, exhibited in November 1986 at Milipol (the Police and Internal Security Troops Equipment Exhibition) was a so-called TOI observation and riot control mini-turret designed to be mounted on the VAB/VMO. In the course of development by Creusot-Loire Industrie, in response to export requirements, this cupola has the advantage of lending itself to a number of uses. It affords the crew member direct all-round visual and video observation by day and by night, permits the recording and display of the video images on two television monitors (one mounted inside the cupola, the other inside the vehicle) and, in case of need, allows armed intervention by grenade-launchers, riot guns, machine-guns, Ruggieri close defence system, etc. The TOI mini-turret has been ergonomically designed to accommodate an observer/gunner for long periods of time. The cupola swivels through 360[degrees]. In its armed action role the vehicle thus equipped assures protection for both internal and external firing. When opened, the upper hatch forms a mounting for a 7.62 mm machine-gun. To complement its equipment a telescopic mast-mounted video camera is planned.

At the last Paris Air Show Matra exhibited another version of the VAB which is in course of development. It is equipped with the Mistral/Albi low altitude air defence system, a dual ammunition configuration with a single firing station. A heavier version, the VAB Santal, is being designed. As the French Army has scrapped the programme to mount the Santal on the ERC Panhard, Matra has turned to the VAB.

In the building stage are the two first breakdown versions of the VAB equipped with a Marrel hydraulic jib with a 1500 kg lifting capacity at four metres, a 7000 DaN winch mounted front right, and fitted out with a workshop. They are due do be delivered to Qatar in mid-1990, forming part of an order comprising seven other vehicles -- three VAB/PCs (command cars) and four 81 mm mortar-carriers.

A 120 mm smooth-bore mortar-carrier, whose proliminary design was conducted jointly with Thomson-Brandt, has reached beyond the feasibility study phase and could be preduced if there is a demand. It would be one of the first wheeled vehicles mounting a 120 mm mortar. Another feasibility study that has been completed is that of the VAB TOW ALT (Armoured Launching Turret), fitted with the Norwegian Kvaerner-Eureka turret already adopted by the Norwegian, Swiss and Canadian armies. This TOW-launcher turret has the advantage of being low-priced. Electrically powered, it enables the ramp to be depressed -15[degrees]. In addition, over and above the two ready-to-fire missiles in the turret, 16 other missiles can be stowed inside the vehicle, which is something new for a TOW launcher vehicle.

The French Army is planning to acquire 54 VAB/NBCs around 1995. The vehicles are equipped with a probe, a spectrometer, a sampling device for liquids and solids, a navigation system, marking pegs, and various devices for checking the level of chemical contamination and radioactivity inside the vehicles.

The above equipment would be installed in a VAB NG (New Generation) which is to be presented to the public at the next Satory exhibition. For RVI and SMS this will be the occasion to present a vehicle of the future rather than one available off the shelf; however, the presentation of this prototype will in no way interfere with the continuing production of the existing VAB. The French Army target, now increased to 4434 units, guarantees series production until the end of 1992. In spite of the French Army budget cuts, the programme's set targets and delivery dates should be maintained.

The certification of the VAB NG by the ETAS (Etablissement Technique d'Angers) and the STAT (Service Technique de l'Armee de Terre) is likely to be announced at the very earliest at the end of 1990. The new vehicle's mobility will be enhanced by a more powerful 250 HP engine and an automatic transmission, its weight will be reduced but its armour protection reinforced by the use of new types of armour and its interior design will be ergonomically modified. It will be able to sustain a heavier armament.

Its design was based on three guiding principles:

* to maintain those features which made the VAB a success (ease of handling, the great versatility offered by the different 4 X 4 and 6 X 6 versions, use of commercially available components, etc.)

* taking a 10 to 15 years' step forward technologically

* ensuring that the first-generation VABs can be as near as possible retrofitted to VAB NG standards.

The economic objective underlying the above considerations was that the overall cost of the basic vehicle should not exceed that of the existing VAB, any overruns being exclusively confined to the available options.

The French Army appears to be interested in this new development, and might perhaps find in it an interim solution pending the arrival of the future VBM (Vehicule Blinde Modulaire -- modular armoured vehicle), which is due to accompany the Leclerc MBT into battle -- bearing in mind that, on the assumption the proposed programme goes through, the VBM would not become operational before the early years of the next century.

Renault V.I's Defence Equipment Division will be indirectly affected by the technical and industrial cooperation agreement which Renault and Volvo intend to conclude insofar as the future partners are due to take a reciprocal 45% share in their respective industrial vehicle and commercial bus divisions. However, since Volvo's activities in the defence sector are very limited, being confined to the supply of a small number of commercial-type buses, Renault V.I.'s Defence Equipment Division should not be directly concerned, the room for combined efforts in this field between the two manufacturers being very limited.
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Title Annotation:Societe des Materiels Speciaux; Vehicule de l'Avant Blinde
Publication:Armada International
Date:Apr 1, 1990
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