At Arquus in Limoges (Haute-Vienne), the production line is still empty, but ready to welcome, from Monday, the manufacture of vehicles carrying Caesar guns. After the announcement of the delivery by France of twelve new Caesar guns to Ukraine, which are added to the eighteen howitzers already delivered since the start of the conflict, the Directorate General of Armaments (DGA) passed order from Nexter two times eighteen new models.
This production will make it possible to replace the 30 Caesar guns transferred to Ukraine by France by March 2024 in the stocks of the French Army, announced Wednesday the French Minister of the Armed Forces, Sébastien Lecornu. “We were on a deadline of forty-four months to produce a Caesar gun, they will fall to eighteen”, he welcomed.
Acronym for “truck equipped with an artillery system”, Caesar is as much a truck as a cannon. Mobility, precisely, is the credo of Arquus, the French specialist in wheeled armored vehicles. They are the ones who designed the famous VAB, an armored forward vehicle, which entered service in 1976 in the Army, and which is still the most common vehicle in the troops.
The Limoges (Haute-Vienne) site of the French manufacturer (an entity of AB Volvo) thus manufactures all the mobility, chassis, engine and armored cabin parts of the Caesar assembly. “Precisely, we are responding to an order from Nexter for the replacement of these Caesars for the benefit of the Army,” explains Sophie Rol, director of the Limoges plant.
Developments in an unstable international context
Even if the plant will experience a peak of activity for a few months with this order, it is still very far from a “war economy” mode. “On this production line, on which we assemble the silhouette truck vehicles, we can assemble up to two vehicles per day, but for the moment we will produce four Caesar carriers per month”, continues Sophie Rol. A second identical production line allows the production of VLRAs, Bastions, Sherpas, etc.
Arquus is however preparing for changes, in an unstable international context, “this is why we have transformed our factory to have flexible production capacities, and to be able to meet any need, at any time,” continues Christophe. Bouny, methods and industrialization manager of the Limoges site. For example, we have made a significant investment, nearly 9 million euros, for the creation of a logistics platform attached to the production building and thus improve our flows, optimize our production, and achieve production rates of up to five vehicles per day. Each Arquus site is also specialized, with the Limoges site having now become the Center of Excellence for the production of new vehicles.
A vehicle transformation process
Arquus, and in particular its Limoges site, has been at the heart of a transformation process for Army vehicles for four years. Although still fit for service, the VAB, which continues to be renovated and maintained, will be gradually replaced by the Griffon, a more modern troop transport vehicle, 500 of which have already left the factory, for a of 1,872 units. Marin Tollet, the communication manager of Arquus, underlines that the Griffon weighs 24.5 tons, when the VAB was only 13 at its beginnings, “a mass increase which is explained by the needs to reinforce and the mobility with a 6×6 architecture, and the protection of the soldier, and by the complexity of on-board systems”.
This Griffon vehicle is one of the parts of a much larger program called Scorpion. “It’s an Army program, to which we contribute on the vehicle component in partnership with Nexter and Thales, continues Marin Tollet. In addition to the Griffon vehicle, it notably includes the Jaguar vehicle – an EBRC [Engin blindé de Reconnaissance et de Combat] supposed to replace in particular the AMX10 RC – and a new generation of Hornet teleoperated turrets, which allow new capabilities in terms of battlefield observation and combat under armor. »
Connectivity, hybridization and automation are the three levers that make up the new Army vehicles, on which Arquus and its partners are working.
The Scarabée prototype “prefigures the light vehicles of tomorrow”
Arquus recently presented its Scarabée prototype, the “first hybrid military vehicle in the world, which foreshadows the light vehicles of tomorrow. This is a theme on which Arquus is now at the forefront in France”. For this reconnaissance vehicle, “the hybrid allows real discretion over the last kilometres, when approaching and in contact with the enemy,” explains Marin Tollet. The Arquus Nexter Thales consortium is also working on the development of a hybrid Griffon, by 2025. For this type of heavier vehicle, which can carry control screens, communication systems, perimeter cameras, jammers, a cupola, the hybrid will make it possible to feed all these modern systems making it possible to go into combat.
Finally, on a heavier vehicle like a tank, whose engine runs at 80% when stopped and therefore consumes a lot of fuel at idle, the hybrid would make it possible to last longer in combat. “There is therefore an interest in developing the hybrid for the whole spectrum of vehicles, even if it is as much for questions of combat autonomy as fuel consumption. The hybrid of tomorrow also means sharing energy in external operations, between vehicles and on forward operating bases, with great resilience and a reduced logistical footprint. »
Connectivity between vehicles
Ultimately, the Scorpion program will also enable connectivity between vehicles. “On the Griffon’s Hornet remote-operated turret, for example, is installed an independent adjustable crown, allowing smoke canisters to be fired at 360° to camouflage themselves from the view and from the opponent’s shots. Tomorrow, the cupola will be connected by the Scorpion network to all the other vehicles in the combat group, and will be able to fire automatically or manually to protect itself or another less well placed vehicle. So we enter a bubble of self-protection where everyone protects everyone. »
Manufacturers are finally working on the integration of small drones. “We don’t make drones, but we will have to plan their home bases to recharge them, because the drone will be essential in tomorrow’s combat. We are also working on the protection of vehicles and infantry against these new threats”. Tomorrow’s combat promises to be less of a hand-to-hand infantry battle than a battle for information… the C4ISR, in the jargon.