Behind the scenes of renovation of the armored vehicles of the Gendarmerie

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At the beginning of November, motorists see unusual vehicles passing on the roads of the department of Indre-et-Loire. And more particularly in the area of Montlouis-sur-Loire, near Tours, where the Omat company is located. Specializing in the renovation of military equipment, it was entrusted by the Gendarmerie with the renovation of two armored vehicles. A VBRG and a VAB to be exact. They therefore carried out on the roads, but also on dedicated tracks, the last tests before their official handover to the Institution.

Also read: How the Gendarmerie intends to replace its old armored vehicles

Refurbished Gendarmerie armored vehicles

Forget the term “ retrofit ”. Here, we prefer to talk about enhancement and modernization. Or even reconstruction, since that was literally the case for these two vehicles. More than a simple brushstroke, it is thus a real work of refurbishment as new that has been carried out. New engines, new gearboxes (including an automatic one for the VAB), air conditioning… the vehicles handed over to the Gendarmerie in mid-November seem to be brand new. The first models, however, date from the 1970s. “That’s the whole objective of our approach , explains Stéphane Mathiaud, Managing Director of Omat . We made something new out of the old.”

Entirely renovated and painted in the colors of the Gendarmerie, the VAB was originally an Air Force vehicle. The new engine of this monster that it embeds makes it possible to reach 1,400 km of autonomy. With its eleven empty tons, it can accommodate ten passengers. For more comfort, space and safety, seats fitted with belts have replaced the traditional bench seats at the rear of this prototype. The thermal insulation has also been fully reinforced. The interior walls are equipped with insulating panels. They thus prevent the heat from the engine and the outside from spreading into the passenger compartment and improve the performance of the air conditioning.

The prototype of the forward armored vehicle (VAB), in a law enforcement version, proposed to the Gendarmerie by the Omat company. (Photo: LP/L'Essor)
The prototype of the forward armored vehicle (VAB), in a law enforcement version, offered to the Gendarmerie by the Omat company. (Photo: LP/L’Essor)

A unique “law enforcement” VAB

In addition, new equipment, such as the integration of an observation turret on the VAB, as already exists on the VBRGs, as well as additional ballistic protection. You then obtain an almost unpublished “law enforcement” version. Especially since it also has the precious blade, so dear to the gpolice men. Equipment that may however be optional or removable.

Another advantage of the VAB: the availability of spare parts. “The armies are gradually separating from their VABs, notes the boss of Omat. These are often vehicles destined for scrap or rendered obsolete. We take them back to make almost new vehicles.” Because apart from the bodywork which has multiplied the kilometers, everything else has been replaced. “And again , specifies Thierry Cholet, the technical director, even the bodywork has received a facelift.” Sandblasting, going after with anti-rust, painting, and even reinforcement of the shielding.

The revival of the VBRG through renovation

On the VBRG side, the work is also impressive. “We received it after Notre-Dame-des-Landes, completely damaged, remembers, supporting photos, Thierry Cholet. Only the four tires were new!” As with the VAB, the machine had to be completely dismantled, the bodywork reworked, protected and repainted. It also received a new engine, entirely mechanical on request from the Gendarmerie, and various additions, such as air conditioning, thermal insulation panels and increased ballistic protection.

The prototype wheeled armored vehicle of the Gendarmerie (VBRG) after its renovation by the company Omat. (Photo: LP/L'Essor)
The prototype wheeled armored vehicle of the Gendarmerie (VBRG) after its renovation by the company Omat. (Photo: LP/L’Essor)

“These are two prototypes. We deliver them in working order, ready to be used in operation.” Before that, they will nevertheless undergo a whole battery of tests by the technicians of the armored group of the mobile gendarmerie (GBGM). Based in Satory, in the Paris region, these experts will assess the two armored vehicles, both in terms of driving and in terms of tactical capabilities (clearing the road, pushing vehicles and barricades, etc.). In short, the whole spectrum of missions devolved to the armored squadrons of the Gendarmerie.

While the VBRGs are more suited to mainland France, the VABs correspond even more to the missions of the Gendarmerie overseas. Nearly half of the Gendarmerie fleet could therefore cross the oceans to reach these territories .

Read also: The Gendarmerie is targeting 45 new armored vehicles

Two companies side by side for the renovation of armored vehicles

For Omat, the adventure of renovating these tanks began in 2018. After initial contacts with the Gendarmerie, the VBRG was entrusted to them in October of the same year. This first vehicle was then joined in early 2019 by VABs, transmitted by the armies to the Gendarmerie. Using its own funds, the company from Touraine Region will therefore renovate these vehicles to offer them to the Gendarmerie. “We hope that a market will come behind , confides Stéphane Mathiaud. Retrofitting is a powerful solution! These vehicles are almost new. They have a new lifespan of 20 to 30 years ahead of them.”

Another company, the Turgis & Gaillard group, also received a similar mission. At the end of the phase of experimentation and tests of the renovated vehicles Begining this month, the two companies could be entrusted with the renovation on a larger scale of armored vehicles for the benefit of the Gendarmerie. The Army has a fleet of about 80 armored vehicles, some of which are out of order. It could also recover VABs that the armies are gradually abandonning in favor of more modern vehicles adapted to external operations.

Taking advantage of the recovery plan, the Gendarmerie has indeed planned a large envelope dedicated to the renewal of these armored vehicles. According to the latest hearings of its Director General before parliamentarians, the Institution seems to be moving towards an hybrid solution. It would include partial acquisition of new vehicles, and partial of renovation of experienced armored vehicles. Case to follow.

Loic Picard