During the last decade there began a definitive move away from costly and complex tracked armored vehicles to more cost-effective all-wheeled solutions. This proved the case with the fighting forces in Europe including the Belgian and French armies. For the former, combat tanks have been abandoned altogether in favor of wheeled vehicles. For the latter, the Giat Industries Vehicule blinde de Combat d'Infanterie (VBCI) was adopted as an 8x8 wheeled, all-terrain, modular Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) to replace its outgoing stock of AMX-10P tracked IFVs of late-1960s heritage. The VBCI formally entered French Army service during 2008 and several hundred of the type (in two distinct model forms) will eventually form VBCI strength in inventory.
Origins of the VBCI are in the early portion of the 1990s when the French sought an all-modern IFV solution through the Vehicule Blinde Modulaire ("Modular Armored Vehicle") program. The program picked up some speed when interest came from Britain and Germany but by the end of the decade, the VBM project had fallen to naught. A new indigenous French IFV project was formed and development resulted in a four-axle, 8-wheeled Armored Fighting Vehicle (AFV). Pilot vehicles (five in all including one Command Vehicle (CV) model) showcased a conventional, yet sleek, overall design with sound battlefield capabilities. Testing ensued during 2003 to 2005 through an early batch though delays encountered with the intended single-crew powered turret pushed service entry back for the vehicle was not introduced in number until 2008. The French Army had originally ordered some 700 units back in 2000 but this total was reduced by the end of the development phase. 550 of the base IFV model were ordered as the VBCI with 150 of the CV mark being taken on - this vehicle recognized as the VPC.
The initial French Army unit to equip with the type became the 35th Infantry Regiment (Belfort). At one time, the British Army was considering purchase of the VBCI to fulfill a new Armored Fighting Vehicle (AFV) requirement all their own in a "technology swap" sale (the French would have purchased Watchkeeper drones in turn). The British program eventually fell to nothing which effectively stopped any chance of sales for both sides.
Design-wise, the VBCI features a proven 8x8 wheeled military arrangement. The eight large, real-time adjustable, run-flat road wheels give excellent ground clearance, balance, and displacement allowing for some obstacle crossing and water fording capability to be had. The hull superstructure sports a well-sloped glacis plate at front with a vertical wall making up the vehicle's rear face. The eight-wheeled arrangement allows for power-assisted steering of the first two axles (four wheels). The driver sits at front-left in the hull with the powerpack to his right and the vehicle commander to his immediate rear (the gunner is in the turret). The engine is a Renault diesel-fueled installation developing 550 horsepower. The placement of the engine at front allows the rear of the hull to be used for passenger seating and the middle of the hull to be used as the turret emplacemnet. Overall dimensions (7.6x2.98x3 meters) are such that the VBCI can be air-transported in the hold of an Airbus A400M "Atlas" or similar transport aircraft. Performance includes a maximum road speed of 62 miles per hour with an operational range out to 470 miles. Suspension is across all eight wheels for true cross-country travel capabilities. At the rear of the vehicle is a large powered door that lowers to become the access ramp. Passengers are given two rows of seating with four seats each.
The fighting aspect of the VBCI not only includes its infantry passengers but also the DRAGAR turret seated atop the hull roof with full 360-degree traversal. The 25x137mm M811 dual-feed cannon (NATO standard shells) features a rate-of-fire of 400 rounds-per-minute and is fully-stabilized for accurized fire at range. A laser rangefinder and thermal imaging device is standard. The turret is a one-man design fitting a useful autocannon as well as anti-infantry machine gun and smoke grenade dischargers for self-defense. The cannon provides protection against light armored vehicles, heavy suppression fire against enemy infantry, and can even be used to engage low-flying threats like helicopters. The coaxial machine gun also serves in an anti-infantry role and as a suppression weapon. Smoke grenade dischargers help to shield the position of the vehicle against enemy eyes - it can be used as both an offensive and defensive measure depending on the battlefield situation.
Base armor protection of the vehicle is up to small arms fire (14.5mm or less) and shell splinters. The hull features welded aluminum construction with titanium added to more critical regions. Internal spall liners add another layer of protection for the crew and its important systems. The cabin floor is given some measure against mines as well.
The base VBCI IFV model is the VCI and this vehicle serves with a standard crew of three (driver, commander, and gunner) and offers passenger-hauling for up to nine combat-ready troops. The turret sports the aforementioned 25mm main gun coupled with the 7.62mm coaxial machine gun. The VPC is the CV model and uses a standard crew of two with seven specialists. A simplified turret mounts a sole 12.7mm heavy machine gun for local air and infantry defense and this mark also features two SIP workstations and additional communications equipment. The VTT is a third mark intended as a dedicated troop transport for export sale. Its crew is two with seating for ten combat-ready troops. All VBCI vehicles feature NBC (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical) and IFF (Identification Friend-or-Foe) equipment as standard.
The VBCI has already seen combat action with French forces fighting in Mali against extremists.