Véhicule Blindé Léger (VBL)
The Panhard Ultrav-M11 and Renault VBL were competitors for French Army reconnaissance scout and anti-tank vehicle roles and for export (40-45 Mlls have been ordered by Mexico by 1985). The Renault VBL is of less conventional design than the Panhard M11 in that its militarized commercial engine is mounted in the rear. It has lighter (4 to 6-mm thick) armor, but weighs less (2,554 empty, 2.970 loaded) than the M1l.
The French Army established requirements (in 1977) for an under-3.3-t Vehicule Blinde Leger (VBL) - Light Armored Vehicle - to replace scout jeeps and to use as an antitank missile carrier. About one-third of the 8,000 armored vehicles that were to be procuredto equip the 5-division French Rapid Action and Assistance Command established in the mid-1980s and to modernize other combat units were expected to be the winning VBL competitor. The French Army also was procuring other, heavier, armored vehicles, including AMX-IORC 105-mm gun, 6x6 fire support vehicles and VAB 4x4 APCs for its light armored, infantry, and marine divisions as well as 900-1,000 new main battle tanks and AMX-1OP tracked IFVs for its mechanized divisions.
The Véhicule Blindé Léger (VBL) corresponds to a new tactical need with wheels discrete and general-purpose having amphibians and NBC capacities. It is conceived to combine with the agility of the jeep a sufficient protection against the battlefield and the dangers of NBC attack. The VBL is planned for two versions: reconnaissance and anti-tank combat. It must be able to carry out in an autonomous way the missions of reconnaissance and infiltration, and to ensure the environment of the future. The version with anti-tank devices will be capable of shooting MILAN with 6 missiles, 7.62 mm automatic arms with 2000 rounds, or 7.62 mm automatic arms with 3000 rounds.
Small, inexpensive combat vehicles have a long history. They include the machinegun-armed tricycle, circa 1900; the Renault light FT-17, 2-man tank (6.5 metric tons) used by the French and US forces in WWI; the British tracked Bren gun carrier and Soviet BA-64, 4x4 armored car of early WWII; the post-war British Ferret scout car; and jeeps armed with machine guns, recoilless rifles and antitank guided missiles.
Modern tankers in their 40-to-60-ton machines may regard these lightweight combat vehicles as merely interesting oddities from the past, and the new ultra-lights as not much more potent. But the modern ultra-lights have a very low battlefield signature, along with the capability of carrying a half-dozen or so tank-killing guided missiles. They can also mount short-range surface-to-air missiles (SAM) or 20-to-30-mm automatic cannon capable of engaging light armored vehicles. The capabilities of the new ultra-lights as weapon carriers, coupled with their concealability and quiet operation, made them especially useful for conducting ambushes, raids, flank attacks, economy of force operations, convoy escort, reconnaissance, and internal security operations, either alone or in conjuction with heavier mechanized forces.
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