In 1978, the French Army issued a requirement for a vehicle weighing under 3,500 kg for two basic roles, anti-tank armed with the Euromissile MILAN ATGW, and intelligence/scout armed with machine guns.
After proposals from five companies were studied, Panhard and Renault were each awarded contracts for the design and construction of three vehicles which were delivered to the French Army for trials in 1983. The official French Army designation for the vehicle is the Vehicule Blinde Uger (VBL).
In February 1985, the French Army accepted the Panhard vehicle to meet its requirements for the VBL. Between June and October 1988, Panhard delivered 15 preproduction vehicles to the French Army for a wide range of troop and specialist trials under a variety of environmental conditions. Before this, Panhard delivered three VBLs to the French Army for use in Lebanon.
Under the French Army's first programme for the VBL, a total of 1,585 VBLs was required in three batches.
The first batch of Panhard VBL vehicles for the French Army consisted of 569 vehicles, the first of which was completed late in 1990. All vehicles have now been delivered. This order comprised 201 reconnaissance and 368 anti-tank armed with APILAS anti-tank systems.
Panhard expected that the next order would be for a total of 330 vehicles per year but this was cut back to 110 vehicles a year. The first batch of 110 vehicles (TC 1 - Tranche Conditionnelle No 1) has been completed.
Deliveries of the second batch of 110 (TC 2) commenced in June 1995 and were completed by June 1996. In May 1995, Panhard was notified of the third batch of 110 vehicles (TC 3) which were delivered between June 1996 and April 1997.
Normal production rate for the French Army is 10 vehicles a month but there is plenty of capacity at Marolles for production to be increased if additional VBL orders are received.
By December 1995, the French Army had ordered 922 VBL vehicles, this includes prototypes, preproduction vehicles and trials vehicles and includes two long wheelbase models. The standard version of the VBL has a wheelbase of 2.45 m and the long wheelbase version has a wheelbase of 2.7 m.
By late 1998, the French Army had taken delivery of over 900 VBLs with another 350 to be delivered by 2003.
Some French Army VBL vehicles have been fitted with a 12.7 mm M2 HB machine gun with the gunner being provided with additional armour protection from small arms fire and shell splinters.
The 1,000th VBL was completed in late 1995; of these, 983 are in the standard configuration and 17 in the stretched configuration.
Most sales have been made to existing Panhard customers with the VBLs being used as scouts for the larger and better-armed Panhard AML (4 x 4) and ERC (6 x 6) armoured cars.
VBLs have been used by the French Army operating in the former Yugoslavia and some vehicles have clocked between 80,000 and 100,000 km.
Wherever possible, standard and proven commercial components have been used in the design, for example the diesel engine is the same as that installed in the Peugeot 505 and 605 cars, the Peugeot P4 (4 x 4) light vehicle in service with the French Army and the Talbot Tagora car. The German ZF automatic transmission is also used in many European cars.
In 1996, Oman ordered a total of 51 vehicles for delivery from 1997; of these 43 were in the standard wheelbase version and eight in the long wheelbase version and armed with the Raytheon TOW 3,750 m ATGW system.
The same year, Indonesia placed an order for an initial batch of 18 VBL vehicles which is expected to be followed by a further 46 vehicles. Kuwait has also placed an order for 20 VBLs and the first of these were delivered in 1997.
The hull of the Panhard VBL is of all-welded THD steel that varies in thickness from 5 to 11 mm with the engine at the front and the crew compartment at the rear. The driver sits ai the front of the crew compartment on the left with the vehicle commander to the right. Both have a door in the side that opens to the front, with a bulletproof window in the upper part. To the front of each crew member is a bulletproof window with an electric wiper and the driver has an emergency periscope. As an option, the normal single-piece bulletproof windscreen for the commander and driver can be replaced by an oblong windscreen that opens upwards for improved ventilation. When in a combat area, this would be covered by an armoured shutter. Over the top of the driver's position is a single-piece hatch cover that opens to the front. The commander has a single-piece circular hatch cover that opens to the rear. To the upper left of the driver's rear and upper right of the commander's rear is a small bulletproof window that gives observation to the rear, although this is not a feature of French Army production vehicles.The upper sides of the rear crew compartment slope inward. There is a large door in the rear that opens to the left and has a bulletproof window. In the roof at the rear is a single-piece hatch cover tiiat opens to the left side. All of the bulletproof windows have a thickness of 33.5 to 49 mm.
The Michelin combat tyres enable the vehicle to cover 50 km at a speed of 30 km/h after a puncture or being hit by bullets. A tyre-pressure regulation system is fitted as standard.
The VBL is fully amphibious after two minutes of preparation and is propelled in the water by a single propeller mounted under the hull rear. Before entering the water a trim vane is erected manually at the front of the vehicle.
For export vehicles the amphibious kit will be optional, other options include an NBC system (standard on French Army vehicles), an air conditioning system, a passive night driving periscope, a heater and power-assisted steering.
The French Army uses the VBL in two basic roles, combat/anti-tank and intelligence.
The combat version has a crew of three: commander, driver and MILAN operator, and is armed with a 7.62 mm machine gun (with 3,000 rounds of ammunition) and a MILAN launcher (with six missiles). The MILAN launcher can be fitted on the front or rear hatches of the VBL or deployed away from the vehicle. This version has a radio, three 5.56 mm FAMAS rifles and nine hand grenades.
The intelligence version has a crew of two, commander/radio operator and a driver. Armament consists of one 7.62 mm machine gun (with 3,000 rounds) or one 12.7 mm machine gun (with 1,200 rounds). The weapon is fitted to a ring mount on the roof of the vehicle to the right of the driver and has an elevation from -10 to i50° and a traverse of 180° left and right. It also has two radios, which can be used by either crew member, two 5.56 mm FAMAS rifles and six hand grenades. An LRAC anti-tank launcher and 12 rockets can also be carried.
In addition to the two basic models required by the French Army, Panhard has proposed at least 22 other versions including a command vehicle, an armoured personnel carrier, an anti-aircraft vehicle with two Matra BAe Dynamics Mistral missiles, an anti-tank vehicle with Euromissile HOT or Raytheon TOW ATGWs, a radio vehicle, a radar vehicle with RASIT system, an electronic warfare vehicle, an ammunition carrier and an internal security vehicle. Other armament options are also available including 20 mm cannon. However, some of these are only suggested for the LWB version of the VBL.
Panhard offers two basic chassis, the standard model as used by the French Army, this being the model described, and the ULTRAV M11 which has a stretched chassis.
LWB (4 x 4) VBL
The standard production Panhard VBL has wheelbase of 2.45 m and a crew of two or three depending on the mission and equipment fit.
As a private venture Panhard has built a stretched version with a wheelbase of 2.7 m which can have a crew of four depending on equipment fit.
This stretched version has a total of four roof hatches, each of which swings back through 180° towards the rear with the driver's at front left, commander's front right and two rectangular hatches at the very rear.
Panhard has suggested the following roles for the stretched VBL:
(1) Patrol vehicle with four crew and 7.62 mm roof-mounted machine gun
(2) Squadron command vehicle with 7.62 mm roof-mounted machine gun and additional communications equipment
(3) Scout vehicle with various armament installations including SAMM TMA 105 turret armed with 12.7 mm machine gun
(4) Surveillance vehicle with RASIT radar system mounted on roof and operator at rear
(5) Air defence surveillance vehicle with roof-mounted radar system and operator at rear
(6) Air defence vehicle with Matra BAe Dynamics ALBI system and two Mistral surface-to-air missiles in the ready to launch position.
(7) Fitted with Raytheon TOW anti-tank guided missile system with a maximum range of 3,750 m. This version has already been adopted by Oman which took delivery of eight vehicles in 1997.
As mentioned under development, this version of the VBL is now expected to be adopted by the French Army for a number of specialised roles.
The Panhard VBL is also being marketed for use in the Internal Security (IS) role, carrying five men.
VBL with surveillance radar
For the export market a Panhard VBL has been fitted with an air defence surveillance radar system which would be used to designate targets for the VCR (6 x 6) vehicle fitted with the Bofors Missiles RBS 70 surface-to-air missile system and the ERC Kriss twin 20 mm (6 x 6) self-propelled anti-aircraft gun system. This version is used by Gabon.
The version has a crew of three and is fitted with a radar system with a range of 16 to 20 km for aircraft and 8 to 10 km for helicopters. The antenna is mounted on a telescopic mast and is raised above the vehicle when operating.
Inside the rear of the VBL are the radar transceiver display console, land navigation system and a radio communications system. This system is used by Gabon.
Panhard VBL with HOT-ATM
This is a Panhard VBL (4 x 4) fitted with a Euromissile turret with a 4,000 m range HOT anti-tank missile either side of the turret. In the middle of the turret, between the missiles, is an electro-optical package which includes a thermal camera, TV camera and laser range-finder. This can be elevated and used for battlefield surveillance or for aiming the HOT missiles.
While Euromissile is responsible for the turret and missile system, Thomson TTD Optronique is responsible for the elevating mast. Additional details are given in the entry for the Wiesel vehicle later in this section.