The replacement of the Indian T72s is a unique opportunity for Nexter and the French Army

At the beginning of June, the Indian authorities officially relaunched the Future Ready Combat Vehicles program, or FRCV, aiming to acquire 1700 heavy armored vehicles to replace some 2200 T72 battle tanks currently in service with the country's armed forces. A request for information was sent to some 12 manufacturers of heavy tanks: the Russian Uralvagonzavod for the T90M and the T-14 Armata, the American General Dynamics for the M1Ax Abrams, the German Krauss-Maffei Wegman for the Leopard 2 , South Korean Rotem for K2, Turkish Otokar for Atlay, Serbian Yugoimport for M-84, Ukrainian Malyshev for T-84, Italian Leonardo for Ariete, Israeli Mantak for the Merkava, the British BAe for the Challenger, the Indian DRDO agency for a locally made tank and the French Nexter for the Leclerc. The announced objective is to build the 1700 armored vehicles, a large part of which are combat tanks, but also specialized vehicles for command, engineers, mobile artillery and Air Defense, by the end of the decade. , and this, of course, in Indian factories respecting the "Make in India" dear to President Modi.

However, among this impressive list of manufacturers, many are those who offer tanks considered too heavy for the Indian theater, as is the case of the American M1 Abrams and German Leopard 2, displaying more than 70 tonnes on the scale. Others, such as the Serbian M84 and the Italian Ariette do not offer the advanced modern combat capabilities required, as the armor is no longer fully supported by the manufacturer. Others finally lack technological maturity, such as the Turkish Atlay. In fact, during the previous version of this call for tenders, 4 armored vehicles stood out for the Indian authorities: the South Korean K2, the Ukrainian T84, and especially the Russian T14 and French Leclerc, which served as favorites. before the competition is canceled. And it is true that due to its mass of only 55 tons, its great mobility thanks to its 1500 hp engine, and the excellence of its turret and its dynamic aiming system, Leclerc responded in many ways to Indian needs. However, since 2015, the situation has changed significantly, both from a technological and industrial point of view, and especially with regard to global geopolitics. And faced with these new parameters, the FRCV program can represent, for France, much more than a commercial opportunity, by becoming a strategic issue to give the Army back the necessary and sufficient capabilities. in high intensity combat.

1600 of some 2200 Indian T72s have been modernized by the DRDO to increase their protection and combat effectiveness

In the state of the current French military programming, the Army will not have, from here 2035 and the supposed arrival of the first examples of tanks from the Franco-German MGCS program, 200 modernized Leclerc battle tanks integrated into the Scorpion program, that is to say barely 3 cuirassier regiments. At the same time, the self-propelled artillery will be composed of 110 CAESAR guns and about fifty self-propelled 120 mm mortars. These planning elements are clearly insufficient quantitatively, but also qualitatively, to meet the security challenges in the years to come. As announced by the Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces and the Army in recent years, the French Armies do not have, today, the necessary mass to support a high intensity engagement over time. It is precisely in this context that the FRCV program constitutes a strategic potential.

Indeed, restarting an assembly line to produce a few hundred Leclerc tanks would, from an industrial and commercial point of view, have very little interest, the costs of structures being excessively burdening production costs, and therefore the competitiveness of the tank during international competitions as well as the budget of the armies. On the other hand, it may be relevant to offer the Indian authorities an advanced partnership in which the French industry would act as a technology provider and an industrial partner, while the French armies would act as clients of the program itself, taking advantage of the threshold effects generated by the cumulative production of 1700 armored vehicles for the Indian armies, and some 300 or 400 armored vehicles to strengthen the high intensity component of the French Army. In addition to the acquisition of additional modernized heavy tanks, this would also allow the French armies to pool development costs with India for specialized versions such as mobile artillery, engineers, command, electronic warfare or anti-defense. close air, capabilities that today are also seriously lacking in the Army.

The Leclercs of the United Arab Emirates have apparently given satisfaction during their intervention in Yemen, especially during the fighting in urban areas, and thanks to excellent mobility and availability, served it is true by exemplary logistical support from the UAE armies. .

Organized in this way, such a program could simultaneously benefit from the quality of the design and production of the French BITD, and in particular of Nexter, but also, in a supervised form, lower production costs linked to large volumes as well as at lower labor costs in India, so as to make the family of heavy armored vehicles thus produced attractive on the international scene, especially since France would appear, officially, as the first 'export customer' of this production. It should be noted that the impact on domestic policy of such a symbol, the French Armies, clients of the Indian defense industry, would undoubtedly be significant in India, and would represent a weighty argument to make this model attractive to political authorities. from the country. For France, it would also represent many attractions, in addition to the economic and industrial activity that it would generate, it would strengthen the high-end segment of the armed forces and therefore extend the weight of the French armies in Europe and in the world. .

Other international programs and competitions in which the French defense industries are engaged today represent a comparable mixed potential interest, simultaneously making it possible to increase national industrial activity while strengthening the operational capacities of the armed forces, by extending their format and therefore their resilience to engagement. One of the most important is the program to replace the Mirage 2000-9 acquired by the United Arab Emirates in the early 2000s from France, by an equivalent number of Rafale aircraft, with a clause of takeover by France of previously sold Mirages. However, these high-performance aircraft could indeed represent a major contribution to strengthening the Space Air Force, which we know is seriously under-capacity, especially since they still have about fifteen years of flight potential, and that they are remarkably well equipped both for air defense missions and for tactical support.

The United Arab Emirates' mirage 2000-9 could represent significant potential if they were to join the Air Force as part of a Rafale order from Abu Dhabi

In any case, it now seems important for France to equip itself with a flexible and agile export mechanism capable of broadly and dynamically integrating, in its offers, the potential for developing the deficit operational capacities of the French armies. , within the framework of the current global geopolitical evolution. Thus, the export of weapon systems would go beyond its present perception of purely industrial capacity, that is to say a means of reaching the minimum activity thresholds to maintain strategic industrial and technological autonomy in terms of Defense, to achieve a operational capability dimension, by directly participating in the strengthening of the French armies. This approach would make it possible, in particular, to seize opportunities that are currently inaccessible due to the very compartmentalization of programs outside of particularly cumbersome and restrictive inter-state cooperation as in the case of SCAF and MGCS, and to win in competitions. international, as Berlin did with Oslo in the area of ​​attack submarines.

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