While Nexter’s failure to participate in the competition to supply its VBCI (Véhicules Blindé de Combat d’Infanterie, Armored Infantry Combat Vehicle) to Qatar’s army appeared to be confirmed for more than three years, Qatar finally reintroduced the 28-tonne armored vehicle.
Qatar announced plans to purchase 490 Nexter VBCI vehicles in December 2017, during a visit by French President Emmanuel Macron. The exact loadout of the 490 vehicles was negotiated, with American, British, French, Norwegian, and Belgian firms bidding for turret systems, among other systems. It was reported in March 2018 that Kongsberg would supply unmanned medium-caliber turrets and Protector remote weapons stations if Qatar ordered the VBCIs in a contract worth up to US$1.94 billion.
It’s now an incredible and unexpected turnaround, as written by Michel Cabirol in the French newspaper La Tribune. According to multiple sources, the VBCI is back in the running for the Qatari army, which had ostensibly turned its back on this French equipment at the end of 2019 in favor of a possible purchase of the Boxer manufactured by the French group’s partner in KNDS, Krauss-Maffei Wegman. However, the VBCI has returned to the competition as a result of the rewarming of Franco-Qatari relations at the highest levels of the two countries.
The VBCI is a tracked infantry fighting vehicle developed by GIAT Industries (now Nexter Systems) and Renault Trucks Defense (now Arquus) to replace the AMX-10P tracked IFV. The first units were deployed to the French Army in 2008. 630 units were ordered, with full delivery taking place in 2018. Spain and the United Kingdom both expressed interest in purchasing the vehicle, but ultimately chose domestic alternatives.
The VBCI is built on an aluminium hull with modular THD steel and titanium armour that is field replaceable. The 8×8 wheeled design was chosen to make the VBCI more comfortable, less expensive, and easier to maintain in war zones than a tracked vehicle, while still providing enough mobility to complement the Leclerc tank. With an empty mass of less than 18 tonnes, the VBCI is also designed to be transportable by the Airbus A400M.
The VBCI is outfitted with a remote weapon station that can house a 12.7 mm heavy machine gun, a 40 mm automatic grenade launcher, or a 7.62 mm coaxial machine gun. It also has advanced electronics such as a battlefield management system and a navigation system.
Several countries have purchased the VBCI, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.