Will French special forces light vehicles be equipped with US VAMPIRE laser-guided rocket launchers?

In November of 2022, a report by Laurent Lagneau in Opex360 unveiled the U.S. Department of Defense's plan to furnish the Ukrainian army with VAMPIRE laser-guided rocket systems, referred to as the Vehicle-Agnostic Modular Palletized ISR Rocket Equipment. This strategic move was slated for execution throughout the year 2023. Subsequently, in January 2023, a contract was awarded to L3Harris for the supply of 14 units at a value of $40 million. Notably, the French military also expressed keen interest in adopting this innovative system.
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VAMPIRE laser-guided rocket system (Picture source: L3Harris)

L3Harris' VAMPIRE stands as a portable kit with the capacity to be affixed onto a wide range of vehicles equipped with cargo beds, facilitating the launching of the APKWS weapon system and other laser-guided munitions. Within this context, the system encompasses four AGR-20 APKWS laser-guided rockets, a modular targeting system known as WESCAM MX-10 RSTA-D, and a host of assorted sensors. A striking feature of this setup is its ability to be installed onto any 4x4 pickup vehicle in less than two hours. This design caters to the needs of special forces and light infantry, enabling them to engage both ground and airborne targets, including drones.

The APKWS launcher and designator kit from L3Harris is contained within a compact suitcase-like structure. It presents a swift solution for arming non-tactical vehicles (NTV) and a diverse array of tactical vehicles. Notably, the system can be customized to align with specific customer requirements, effectively integrating the components. By facilitating engagement with targets situated beyond the typical range of weapons carried by Special Operations Forces (SOF) and light forces, this system proves its utility.

The modular and palletized nature of the VAMPIRE system endows it with the qualities of a cost-effective and efficient weapon deployment solution. It has been meticulously designed to complement the characteristics of common NTVs, known for their affordability and low-profile presence, thus fitting seamlessly onto a broad spectrum of pickup and cargo-bed equipped vehicles. Installation can be completed in approximately two hours by a team of two individuals employing commonly available tools. Customization to suit specific requirements of customers is readily achievable. Notably, the power supply is integrated, eliminating the necessity for a 24-volt alternator on the host vehicle. Additionally, the WESCAM MX-10 RSTA system, characterized by its independent stabilization, delivers superior Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities. It has the flexibility to accommodate APKWS or other laser-guided munitions.

Evidently, the introduction of the VAMPIRE system has sparked innovation within the French military ranks. A corresponding project was unveiled during an innovation-focused event hosted by the École des troupes aéroportées (ETAP) in Pau. This ongoing endeavor, referred to as "Buthus," draws inspiration from a scorpion commonly found in southern France. At its core is a laser-guided rocket launcher unit, distinguished by its metric precision and an operational range of 7 kilometers. The plan revolves around integrating this unit onto a UNAC Rider carriage, a lightweight French vehicle that has recently gained adoption by special forces. These units, weighing in at 2 tons, have the capability of being either airdropped from a tactical transport plane or transported under sling by NH-90 or Caracal helicopters. Furthermore, this rocket launcher unit can potentially be mounted onto the Arquus Grizzly, identified as the new "airborne reconnaissance and vanguard vehicle" for the 11th Parachute Brigade (11e BP), as expounded by Laurent Lagneau. The rocket anticipated for use in the Buthus system is possibly the FZ275 LGR 70 mm, acclaimed by Thales as the market's "lightest and most compact," offering both metric precision and a 7-kilometer range.

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The French company UNAC presented its air-droppable vehicle Rider at SOFINS 2021 (Picture source: Army Recognition)

Defense News August 2023