54th Signals Regiment (French Army)
French Army VAB vehicles supporting the electronic warfare mission are seen here deployed in the field. Thoughts are now turning to the vehicles, which could replace these ageing platforms.

The French Army operates several EW platforms to assist the manoeuvre force at the operational and tactical levels. These are ageing and could soon be in need of replacement.

Electronic Warfare (EW) platforms

These electronic warfare platforms are based upon the Renault VAB four-wheel drive armoured vehicle series, with four sub-variants developed to perform electronic attack and electronic support.

The primary electronic attack platform is the VAB VOBULE designed to provide jamming across Very High Frequency (VHF) wavebands of 30 megahertz/MHz to 300MHz. The VAB VOBULE is joined by the VAB LINX which collects Communications Intelligence (COMINT) on VHF signals, and Ultra High Frequency (UHF) signals transmitting in wavebands of 300MHz to three gigahertz.

Open sources state that the VAB LINX has been developed to collect COMINT on ‘exotic’ signals. This may refer to hostile radios and communications networks using transmission and communications security protocols such a frequency-hopping and encryption.

The VAB SAEC is thought to be tasked with collecting V/UHF COMINT in support of the manoeuvre forces at the tactical level, while the VAB CATIZ acts as the command and control centre to coordinate these assets.

The French Army

All these vehicles are deployed with the French Army’s 54e Régiment de Transmissions (54th Signals Regiment) based near the town of Haguenau in northeast France. The 54th Signals Regiment forms one part of the army’s Commandement du Renseignement (Intelligence Command).

Although no information appears to be in the public domain regarding the concept of operations for these vehicles, it seems certain that they would be deployed with the manoeuvre force at the operational and tactical levels.

For instance, the VAB SAEC may be collocated with manoeuvre units at the battalion and/or company levels and will feed tactical COMINT through to VAB CATIZ. Similarly, operational COMINT will be gathered by the VAB LINX and sent to the VAB CATIZ. There SIGINT operatives may perform further signals analysis before tasking the VAB VOBULE with specific operational or tactical jamming missions.

The French Army is thought to possess around 200 of these platforms to assist EW, with deliveries commencing in 1993.

Replacement

Some of these vehicles will now be almost thirty years old. Although the French government does not appear to have formally articulated any plans to replace them, it is a decision they will need to take soon.

There are two options open to the army regarding replacement:

  • The first could see the adoption of an existing platform like the Nexter/Thales/Arquus VBMR six-wheel drive armoured vehicle. The VBMR is being delivered to the army as the replacement for the wider VAB family.
  • An alternative is to use the Nexter/Renault VBCI eight-wheel drive infantry fighting vehicle for the mobile EW role, or the utilisation of the Nexter/Thales/Arquus EBRC Jaguar four-wheel drive armoured vehicle as a possible candidate.

The use of an existing vehicle being acquired by the army would save the cost of the force ordering a completely new ensemble of EW vehicles designed and built from scratch. Instead a selection of existing platforms could be upgraded to fulfil specific EW missions.

Costs

Should the army pursue this route it may cost the force between $1 million to $1.5 million per platform to configure an existing vehicle to provide the electronic attack or electronic support mission, according to Armada Analysis’ figures.

Presuming that the French Army upgrade around 150 of their vehicles for EW, suppliers could benefit from up to $150 million of business. This could represent one of the largest ground electronic warfare acquisitions in Europe this decade.

by Dr. Thomas Withington