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Armored Cars: Nexter-Texelis Serval VBMR

June 13, 2021

The French Army’s SCORPION Program launched in July 2018 seeks to equip the branch with new communications, logistics, and firepower. Besides the upgraded Leclerc MBTs, the Jaguar 6×6 recce vehicles, and the Griffon 6×6 MRAP, the smallest vehicle in this impressive assembly is the Serval VBMR–a serval, by the way, is a species of wildcat. The Serval VBMR is a combat optimized 4×4 truck comparable to the Oshkosh JLTV of the US Army or the Russian airborne forces’ Remdiesel Typhoon. Obviously, it’s meant to replace the dated VAB and VBL armored 4×4’s that have served in the French Army for the past three decades.

The Serval VBMR, whose resemblance to the Griffon MRAP is intentional, combines Nexter’s vehicular expertise with critical parts supplied by Texelis who are the supplying the chassis, suspension system, transmission system, and drive train. Since the SCORPION Program is a boon for French industry, Arquus and Thales are involved too. The Layout of the Serval VBMR is straightforward enough; a tall and boxy monocoque hull with a thick underbelly for surviving bombs and land mines. Subsystems such as a gunshot detector and communications equipment are stacked on the roof. If the reader is curious about the photo upstairs this was taken during off-road driving tests and the long cylinder atop the windshield–bulletproof, of course–is the mount for a remote weapon station armed with an M2 Browning.

Ballistic protection on the Serval VBMR hasn’t been revealed although it’s safe to assume its cab has STANAG III armoring or strong enough to withstand .303 and .308 ammunition. The rest of the hull is probably at STANAG II and survives fragmentation from hand grenades. These assumed characteristics are in keeping with the Serval VBMR’s eventual exposure to the Middle East and North Africa. It needs to be clarified how wheeled armored vehicles of any size aren’t meant to survive direct hits from the 73mm rockets launched by RPGs. Although they can mount countermeasures to block the lethal projectiles such as cage armor.

Since this vehicle only began production details about its performance characteristics are scarce. The engine type is also unnamed (probably a Renault model) but protected 4×4’s in the 17 ton class fully loaded are often built with automatic transmission for the driver’s ease. An interesting feature of the Serval VBMR’s engine compartment is the bonnet is composed of three panels that open outward. Ease of maintenance is paramount to the Serval VBMR with large wheel arches allowing quick access for mechanics if the suspension or tires are compromised.

The French defense ministry did indicate the Serval VBMR’s top speed reaches 90 kilometers per hour on paved roads. It’s important to point out the Serval VBMR in its original variant has a single cab layout, with side doors meant for just the driver and co-driver, while the rest of the passengers enter from a rear swing door. Six infantry can be seated inside the hull and there are two square roof hatches allowing the occupants to observe their surroundings.

While the Serval VBMR isn’t amphibious it’s meant to travel vast distances with a range of 600 km, and it fits inside medium and heavy transport aircraft alike, with enough external storage space and internal seating for expeditionary missions beyond France and even Europe. The French Army does envision three specific roles for the Serval VBMR once it enters service by 2022. These are convoy protection, reconnaissance, and command and control. According to France’s defense ministry, however, the Serval VBMR is suited for electronic warfare missions as well.

Only 364 Serval VBMRs are going to be assembled by Nexter and Texelis from 2019 until 2025 although the French defense ministry plan on having 978 by 2030. From 2033 onward another large batch of 1,060 are going to be ordered. At this stage none are approved for export although this isn’t such a big deal because French manufacturers have large armored vehicle catalogs anyway.

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