DEFEA 2023 – Arquus proposal for Greek VBLs upgrade to the Ultima configuration
With a fleet of over 200 VBLs still in service Greece might revive its VBLs following the VBL Ultima upgrade programme developed by Arquus for the French Army, which aims at improving protection while maintaining or even increasing mobility
One of the many nations that acquired the VBL (Véhicule Blindé Léger) from Panhard, Greece received its first 13 vehicles in the reconnaissance version in 1997, followed by 14 more in 1998 end 23 in 199. A series of further contracts brought their number to 242, some of them in the antitank version, armed with the Milan missile, and some other in the communications, command and reconnaissance version, the latter fitted with Panhard PL127 open turret armed with a browning M2HB 12.7 mm machine gun.
Most of those vehicles are still in service with the Hellenic Army, however their effectiveness and availability decreased with time. Along the years Panhard, which became then part of Renault Trucks Defense, now Arquus, upgraded its VBL design, and following the requirements of the French Army based on lessons learned in Afghanistan developed the VBL Ultima.
In 2019 a contract was signed between the GDDIA, the Greek General Directorate for Defense Investments and Armaments that included the transformation of two VBLs belonging to the Greek Army to the Ultima standard and the provision of a number of spare parts. The Greek Army delivered its two vehicles to Arquus in the Larissa base, these being transported to Saint-Nazaire, on the Brittany coast, where French Army VBLs are upgraded to VBL Ultima.
The upgrade process sees the disassembly of the vehicle, the removal of the amphibious kit, the Ultima GVW exceeds the vehicle floating capacity, followed by a thorough check of the hull. This is then fitted with anti-noise mats, followed by dampers and exhaust pipes. Front and rear axels are added then added, internal subsystems as well as the improved braking system with ABS following. The next station sees the upgraded VBL being fitted with the electric wiring and the 130 hp PSA DW10F engine. The powerpack fitting is then completed, cooling and the air conditioning being added before the engine is powered up for the first time. A series of verifications follow, before the vehicle goes through the acceptance process.
The entire process requires a considerable number of man-hour; in its proposal to the GDDIA Arquus includes the possibility of carrying out the upgrade in Greece, in the Army maintenance facilities. According to the company this would lower the overall cost, and would be a direct offset that will considerably improve the Army capability in integrating new subsystems into a refurbished vehicle. Not only, in perspective the Army personnel who took part in the upgrade process would form the perfect maintainers force that will take care of Greek VBL Ultima during their life cycle. Arquus carried out an audit of the Greek Army maintenance facilities three years ago and considers the local upgrade a feasible option. Greek Army personnel would also obviously take care of acceptance tests. On his side, Arquus would provide the major sub-assemblies and equipment to allow this process.
The first tests conducted on the two upgraded VBL Ultima with Greek registration, delivered in 2022. According to information Greek personnel appreciated the increase of overall performances, mobility, safety, reliability and comfort, adding that the upgrade also solves obsolescence issues.
One of the two VBL Ultima in Greek colours was visible on the Arquus booth at DEFEA 2023. The French company is convinced that 2024 will become an Army year, following a long Air Force/Navy period, and hopes to sign a contract within the end of next year. As for numbers, not all Greek VBLs will be upgraded; as part of them are deployed by the Army 32nd marine Brigade, EDR On-Line understood these will retain their amphibious capability, hence they cannot be upgraded, as the weight increase is not compatible with floatability. The potential number of upgraded VBLA should therefore be slightly more than 200.
Photos courtesy Arquus/© Y. Debay and P. Valpolini