French military powerhouse: Unveiling the specifications, variants and operations of the VAB

Launched in 1976, Renault Trucks Defence (now Arquus) built 5,000 units of the armoured people carrier known as the Véhicule de l’Avant Blindé (VAB). With a weight of 13.8 tonnes, mine protection, MEXAS armour, and a potent engine, it performs exceptionally well in a variety of terrains.

The Véhicule de l’Avant Blindé (VAB), meaning “Armoured Vanguard Vehicle” in English, is a tough French armoured people carrier and support vehicle developed and constructed by Renault Trucks Defence, now known as Arquus. When it was first placed into service in 1976, the VAB could produce about 5,000 units. Its battlefield capability has been shown in numerous conflicts spanning Africa, Asia, and Europe, confirming its reputation as a versatile and trustworthy military tool. In addition, the VAB has been exported to more than 15 nations, demonstrating its global acceptance and recognition. It has also received praise on a global scale.

 

Specifications:

This is a very strong military vehicle with a mass of 13.8 tonnes, including the weight when loaded. This adaptable unit can carry ten passengers and has dimensions of 5.98 meters in length, 2.49 meters in width, and 2.06 meters in height. Its strong armour, which combines cage and ballistic blanket, provides defence against anti-personnel mines, splinters from artillery shells, and 7.62 mm bullets.

The inclusion of mine protection and MEXAS composite armour are additional improvements that provide a high degree of security. The steel armour of the vehicle offers strong shielding and can withstand rounds as large as 12.7 mm in the front and turret sections. With a Renault MIDS 062045 engine producing 235 kW (320 hp), the car comes in with an impressive 17 W/kg (23 hp/t) power-to-weight ratio.

It is agile and adaptable on all types of terrain because of its wheeled suspension system and 0.4 metres of ground clearance. With an astounding 1,200-kilometer operational range made possible by its enormous 310-litre fuel tank, the vehicle is quite capable. It has a top speed of 110 km/h (68 mph) and can travel 7.92 km/h through water. A 7.62 mm AA52 machine gun or an M2 12.7 mm machine gun are the two most potent armament options available, offering the required firepower for many tactical circumstances. 

 

Variants:

The French produced the Véhicule de l’Avant Blindé (VAB), a multipurpose armoured vehicle with an astounding diversity of versions suited for different military purposes. Among these, the VAB MK 3, a 6×6 APC version with improved mobility and payload protection, is noteworthy. Being a 4×4 APC version, the VAB VTT (Véhicule Transport de Troupe) is unique due to the fact it can carry ten passengers in addition to two crew members. It also comes with a standard pintle mount for machine guns that are compatible with it.

The VAB AZURE, equipped with a dozer blade and panoramic periscopes for enhanced viewing in cramped areas, embodies urban combat skills. Variants such as the VAB RATAC, equipped with a DR-PC 1a RATAC doppler radar for artillery target acquisition, and the VAB MILAN, designed for anti-tank operations, fulfil specialised missions. Operating as a command vehicle, the VAB PC (Poste de Commandement) can accommodate six crew members and is furnished with all the necessary infrastructure for command and control.

The VAB Bromure depicts electronic warfare, and the VAB SIR (Système d’Information Régimentaire) functions as a computerised C4ISTAR information system for regiments. The VAB Génie, an engineering vehicle with obstacle clearance capabilities, and the VAB Echelon, which is outfitted with a hydraulic jib crane, handle maintenance and recovery demands. The VAB SAN (sanitaire), an armoured ambulance that can accommodate 10 seated patients or five stretchers, offers medical assistance.

Operating as an NBC reconnaissance vehicle, the VAB Reco counters nuclear, biological, and chemical threats. Other versions are the VAB SGEA for electronic warfare, the VAB ATLAS for artillery fire command and control, and the radar-equipped VAB Rapsodie for reconnaissance. Export versions meet special requirements; for example, the VAB 4×4 VCI T.20 is used in Cyprus for fire support and counter-sniping, while the VAB 6×6 VCI Toucan is similar to the VCI T.20/13 but is built on a 6×6 chassis.

With its VCAC “Mephisto” anti-tank capabilities and the VCAC 6×6 UTM800 and VDAA variants for air defence, the VAB’s versatility is further demonstrated. The VAB platform’s great versatility across military and security applications is further demonstrated by the VBMO, which functions as a police version for crowd control, and VDAA variants, such as the VDAA SANTAL, which meet anti-aircraft requirements.

 

Operations:

The Véhicule de l’Avant Blindé (VAB) has been instrumental in numerous military actions conducted in diverse geographical locations. In the Middle East, the VAB has been actively deployed by French infantry troops in Kuwait, Côte d’Ivoire, Yugoslavia, and Chad. The VAB has also been used by French forces assisting the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, showcasing its adaptability in a range of combat situations. Notably, a VAB was damaged by a rocket-propelled grenade during the Uzbin Valley ambush in Afghanistan, but no casualties were reported.

Unfortunately, one soldier who was operating a rooftop machine gun lost his life as a result of a vehicle rolling over. In the Western Sahara conflict, the Royal Moroccan Army used VABs to combat Polisario rebels in Africa. VABs were widely used in the Middle East during the Lebanese Civil War; between 1981 and 1984, the Lebanese Army received 95 vehicles. After a brigade defected in 1984, several VABs went on to serve as militia members of the Shia Amal Movement. For escort and internal security needs, Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces were provided with more VABs after the war.

In addition, the VAB encountered difficulties in Ukraine; as of November 5, 2023, at least seven vehicles had been destroyed during the Russian invasion, with other vehicles suffering damage or being abandoned. The VAB has demonstrated its capacity to function in a range of situations, such as battle zones, cities, and deserts.