While the failure of Nexter’s participation in the competition to supply its VBCI (Véhicules Blindé de Combat d’Infanterie, Armored Infantry Combat Vehicle) to Qatar’s army seemed to be confirmed for more than three years, Qatar finally put the 28-tonne armored vehicle back in the saddle.
In December 2017, during a visit by French President Emmanuel Macron, Qatar announced it intended to purchase 490 Nexter VBCI vehicles. Negotiations were carried on for the exact loadout of the 490 vehicles, with American, British, French, Norwegian and Belgian firms bidding for turret systems among other systems. In March 2018, it was reported Kongsberg would supply unmanned medium-caliber turrets and Protector remote weapons stations in the event that Qatar ordered the VBCIs in a contract worth up to US$1.94 billion.
As written by Michel Cabirol in the French newspaper La Tribune, it’s now an incredible and unexpected turnaround. According to several concordant sources, the VBCI is back in the competition for the Qatari army, which had nevertheless ostensibly turned its back on this French equipment from the end of 2019 in favor of a possible purchase of the Boxer manufactured by the partner of the French group in KNDS, Krauss-Maffei Wegman. But thanks to the rewarming of Franco-Qatari relations at the highest level of the two States, the VBCI is back in the competition.
The VBCI is an Infantry fighting vehicle designed and manufactured by GIAT Industries (now Nexter Systems) and Renault Trucks Defense (now Arquus) to replace the AMX-10P tracked IFV. The first units entered active service with the French Army in 2008. 630 units were ordered and full delivery was completed in 2018. Spain and the UK notably showed interest in acquiring the vehicle but ultimately opted for domestic options instead.
The VBCI is built on an aluminium hull that carries a modular THD steel and titanium armor that can be replaced in the field. The 8×8 wheeled design was chosen to make the VBCI more comfortable, less costly as well as easier to maintain in war theaters than a tracked vehicle would be, while giving it sufficient mobility to complement the Leclerc tank. The VBCI is also designed to be transportable by the Airbus A400M, thanks to an empty mass of fewer than 18 tons.
The VBCI is equipped with a remote weapon station that can mount either a 12.7 mm heavy machine gun or a 40 mm automatic grenade launcher, as well as a 7.62 mm coaxial machine gun. It is also fitted with advanced electronics, including a battlefield management system and a navigation system.
The VBCI has been exported to several countries, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.