French company aims for Canadian combat vehicles

OTTAWA – A French defence contractor that hopes to sell close combat vehicles to the Canadian army says it has lined up Canadian companies to do much of the work.

Nexter Group Systems submitted two bids last month for the program, which is ballparked at $2.2 billion and was originally announced a couple of years ago by the Harper government.

Phillipe Burtin, the company’s chairman and chief executive officer, says it would create as 1,600 jobs among Canadian companies if its bid is selected.

The armoured vehicle-maker is proposing to construct and assemble its 30-tonne VCBIs at Bombardier in Montreal and has enlisted Raytheon Canada Ltd. to handle in-service support and maintenance.

Burtin told a gathering of potential suppliers on Tuesday between 80 and 90 smaller Canadian companies could be called upon to deliver sub-contracted parts.

“We are talking to suppliers representing companies that produce everything from tires to batteries, suspension systems, drive lines, engines, metal cutting and machining companies — everything from electronics to braking systems,” he said.

“Nexter is also dedicated to creating jobs in Canada and to the transfer of technology. As part of our bid, we are fully committed to the Government of Canada’s Industrial and Regional Benefits policy. And we take our responsibilities in this regard very seriously.”

The VCBI has been used by the French army in Afghanistan and is essentially a heavier version of Canada’s existing light armoured vehicle — known as a LAV III.

The Defence Department recently put candidates for the close combat vehicle through their paces at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, which is a test facility for the U.S. army in Maryland.

BAE Systems CV90 tracked armoured vehicle is also in the running.

The Canadian Army plans to acquire 108 vehicles with an option for up to 30 more, and the contract is expected to be awarded this summer.

Five years of fighting in Kandahar forced top commanders to consider the need for a fighting vehicle that’s half way between a LAV and a Leopard 2 battle tank.

Mike Duckworth, Nexter’s vice-president of international affairs, said the company recognizes the Canadians were looking for a vehicle with more firepower than the LAV and that’s why they’ve offered two bids — one with a 25-millimetre gun, the other with a more powerful 30-millimetre cannon.

He emphasized the eight-wheeled VCBI mobility.

But there has been furious debate within the army about whether the new vehicle should be wheeled — or tracked.

The country’s top soldier, Lt.-Gen. Peter Devlin, has said having a medium combat vehicle is critical to future missions.

“It provides enhanced firepower and enhanced protection,” Devlin said in a recent interview with The Canadian Press.

Once the government makes a decision, the vehicles, when they arrive, will be split between the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, both based in the West.

“It is an expensive platform, but it is key to the CF” being able to carry out a variety of missions, from peacekeeping to all-out war-fighting, Devlin said.

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