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By Julian Nettlefold, Editor, BATTLESPACE

20 Feb 08. At a London Reception this week, NEXTER, the French defence company, laid down the gauntlet in a bid to snatch the UK’s FRES Requirement from General Dynamics UK stating that the company can start delivery of the VBCI vehicles in 2011 and not 2012.

As we say above, sources suggest that the IAB has taken the IPT recommendation of the General Dynamics UK Piranha E (or 5) vehicle for FRES.

For obvious reasons NEXTER are not happy with this as they believe that they have the best vehicle in VBCI for the job, which they rightly say is in production and less risk than the GD vehicle which is still on the drawing board. The first VBCIs will be delivered to the French Army in July becoming fully operational by the end of the year. Thus, NEXTER informed the MoD on Wednesday, that they can now accelerate deliveries of the first vehicles to the British Army by 2011, a year earlier than planned. This would suit the MoD to give Sir Richard Dannatt the comfort that he could dispense with his ageing Saxon vehicles which have already killed two of his soldiers in an accident in Bosnia. This delivery, rumoured to be 150 vehicles, could be met, according to NEXTER by diverting French vehicles from the line to the UK Requirement.

BATTLESPACE Editor Julian Nettlefold asked Frederic Bouty of NEXTER and Grahame Birchall to comment on remarks we made last week about the perceived benefit which GDUK had in its UK Industrial Package. Both of them said that NEXTER had not made as much as it should have done in what they consider as an excellent package for UK SMEs. They already have Nick Prest’s Cohort Group as a partner through its MASS division and Quorum Logistics. In addition Bouty told BATTLESPACE that because of the ability to designate the build package for the vehicle, as JCB does, the UK parts package can be inserted into the production process at any stage. The VBCI production line is fully automated using robotic welders on most of the processes. Marshalls of Cambridge, VT and Lockheed Martin UK are other potential UK partners.

When asked about the survivability and protection levels of the vehicle compared to the competition Bouty confirmed that because VBCI was designed as an Infantry Fighting Vehicle and not an APC, the protection levels have always been higher than the competition, a crucial MoD Requirement given the current threat levels.

When asked why the IPT preferred the GDUK offering one suggestion made was that the maintainability of the VBCI had been put into question because the vehicle does not have a NATO Standard powerpack but a separate gearbox and engine. NEXTER said that this was a perceived problem which had been overdone. As the vehicle has an engine and gearbox derived from Renault Trucks and thus highly reliable and the fact that the vehicle is wheeled, even in the event of a breakdown it can be towed form the battlefield.

But, what did rankle NEXTER was their belief that the goalposts had been moved and they were asked to produce a scaleable vehicle which was useable immediately, not a vehicle using future technology inserts. They were also quick to pint out that without the 2.5 tonne turret specified for the French vehicle they had an immediate ability to upgrade armour packages.

Sources suggested that GD had taken a UK MoD delegation tp the USA to show the advances made in the use of composites on the Canadian LAV vehicles to upgrade their protection levels and thus save any weight with more steel. NEXTER stress that the use of aluminum armour saves weight and allows upgrades at less weight gain.

Grahame Birchall stressed that there was more to FRES than a win for the UK. With Boxer out of the UK and perceived to be a complex and expensive vehicle, the UK winner would become the ‘platform of choice’ for Europe and maybe the world.

There is little doubt that the General Dynamics purchase of Mowag was a

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