By Pierre Tran
Paris – The French army is preparing for future high intensity warfare with its Titan project, working with the DGA procurement office to devise a high capacity information network to enter service after 2040.
Titan is seen as changing the game, based on the concept of “strategy of simultaneity,” a term used by army colonel Arnaud Goujon at the May 31 conference on land weapons organized by Fondation pour la Récherche Stratégique, a think tank.
Titan is “not just about platforms,” he said, as the project aims to deliver an “extremely different capability.”
The project seeks to extend a combat cloud for ground forces, a follow-on to the army’s €10 billion ($10.4 billion) Scorpion program. That modernization drive is delivering medium armored vehicles, notably the Griffon multirole troop carrier, Jaguar combat and reconnaissance vehicle, and Serval light multirole vehicle.
Scorpion includes a command and control network based on Atos SICS battle management system, and Thales Contact software-defined radio technology, as well as a training system in the vehicles. There will also be a vehicle to replace the VBL scout car.
Military planners and procurement officials of the Direction Générale de l’Armement are looking to deliver and manage a wider transmission of battlefield information, with greater density of data, to provide interconnection of joint military units.
Titan factors in a shift to fighting a high intensity war, moving away from a concept of operations based on troops deployed overseas for counter-insurgency, asymmetrical combat, as seen in Afghanistan and Mali.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the use of troops, armor, and artillery barrages to seize the Donbas region, eastern Ukraine, point up the significance of high intensity warfare, military analysts said.
A key feature of Titan will be to plug in a planned heavy tank and unmanned vehicles dubbed Main Ground Combat System (MGCS), a project pursued under Franco-German military and industrial cooperation.
That heavy armor in the Titan network will follow on from Scorpion’s focus on medium vehicles, although the latter includes upgrade of 200 Leclerc main battle tanks. The total Leclerc fleet is some 240 units strong, specialist magazine Defense Zone reported.
Artillery and the Tiger Mk3 attack helicopter will also be hooked into the information network, as part of the bid to boost air-land capability.
Scorpion works on collaborative combat, boosting command and control (C2), and bringing “an in-depth transformation,” Goujon said. That complex change will take years to complete, with new vehicles working in network and going on field exercises for certification. The plan is to field a Scorpion brigade in 2023 and a division in 2025.
The new fleets will change the culture and operations of the army, he said, as Scorpion vehicles will not be used the same way as the VAB troop carrier.
The Véhicule de l’Avant Blindé has been the workhorse for the army for some 45 years old, and has undergone various upgrades.
France has sent the VAB to help Ukraine, armed forces minister Sébastien Lecornu told June 27 daily Le Parisien, without giving the number of units.
That press interview confirmed a video clip that had run on social media, showing 14 VABs transported by road in Slovakia, prompting assumption they were bound for Ukraine.
In future combat there will be greater dynamic in the battlefield, Goujon said, with real time video from space satellites for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
“The battlefield will be very exposed,” he said. There will be changes in connectivity with high bandwidth in 5G fifth-generation telecommunications for soldiers and vehicles.
Finding a budget to fund the Titan project poses a problem, with rising inflation and the high cost of technology and service support, he said. Technology will take time to mature, and unmanned systems will be more costly than manned.
Titan To Replace Kit
Titan will also renew the equipment inventory, as well as boosting the information network.
Titan will start replacing weapons at the high end of the conflict spectrum from 2040, equipment which will be worn out by 2050, said Charles Beaudouin, a retired general who led Scorpion in the army technical section. He was on the general staff when the army chief of staff launched the Titan project in 2018.
The weapons to be replaced include the Leclerc tank, VBCI infantry fighting vehicle, Patroller tactical drone, and Tiger helicopter, he said. Artillery will be succeeded by the planned Franco-German Common Indirect Fire System, while a mobile ground-to-air, low-altitude missile system will replace Mistral 3.
A next generation information and communications system using broadband, artificial intelligence and drawing on metadata in the combat theater, will replace Scorpion SICS.
Those new weapons will be fitted with advanced automation and in some cases, intelligent robotics.
“The research budget relating to Titan will be decisive because this program of programs must offer total superiority in 2050 — and for a long time after,” he said.
Technological and capability breakthroughs in Titan will allow upgrade of the Scorpion vehicles — Griffon, Jaguar, and Serval — which will be entering mid-life service, he said. Titan will also address initial gaps in Scorpion, namely defense against anti-tank missiles and drones.
“With the return of wars between nations, the nature of war is changing,” he said, “and without abandoning asymmetric combat, it is now a question of finding a full spectrum of capabilities for symmetric high intensity combat, while acknowledging any combat, symmetric or asymmetric, may have high intensity peaks.
“In this sense, we are not experiencing a return to the Cold War paradigm but a much more complex aggregate combining Afghanistan, Syria-Iraq, Ukraine, to which can be added what we do not even think of today — because war always surprises,” he said.
There will certainly be major disorders and mass migrations due to shortage of raw materials and natural resources, he said.
“What is certain is that the enemy will use the equalizing power of technology and we must imperatively regain mass — symmetry warriors inflict strong human and material attrition,” he said.
“It is not by sacrificing technology to rusticity but by developing a lower cost digital technology and in its rightful place,” he said. “This is where we expect innovation.”
Beaudouin is chairman of Coges Events, organizer of the week-long Eurosatory trade show for land and air-land weapons, which closed June 17. Coges is a unit of the Gicat trade association for land weapons.
Beaudouin was speaking in his private capacity.
Superiority In the Field
“Titan is a major project seeking to guarantee operational superiority on the ground in face of a first rank adversary,” the DGA said.
The project seeks to address the return to high intensity combat in equipment and multi domain operations, the importance of new technology – such as drones – delivering a levelling effect, and the acceleration of change or breakthroughs, the procurement office said.
The architecture and preparation of key capabilities in high intensity warfare require a “top-down” approach, the DGA said. Titan is not a program guided by physical platforms and funding, but seeks to deliver a “strengthened capability,” based on coherence of air-land forces at the high end of the conflict spectrum.
The near term aim is to consider, compare and optimise architectures for air-land forces, the office said. Titan is not an equipment program with a budget.
The main factor in Titan is the MGCS project, which will replace the Leclerc and German Leopard 2 tank, the office said.
There are technical-operational studies which will steer research and technology studies and future programs. Those studies are worth “several million euros,” the office said, without giving details.
Besides those technical-operational studies, Titan draws on MGCS architecture studies, feasibility studies on robotics, and studies backed by the European Union on future artillery, such as FIRES and E-COLORSS, respectively the Future Indirect fiRes European Solution and the European COmmon LOng Range indirect fire Support System.
The latter two EU studies are two-year design studies backed by the 2020 European Defense Industrial Development Program, each study with a budget of €3.5 million.
FIRES examines next generation 155 mm artillery ammunition and rockets based on common technology, while e-COLORSS considers improved European artillery with a 155 mm cannon and rocket launcher mounted on a hybrid truck.
Doubts On the Main Ground Combat System
It remains to be seen how Titan will proceed if the MGCS project were scaled back from its planned Franco-German industrial cooperation.
Doubts over MGCS spring from Rheinmetall reported to be seeking a place at the top table with Krauss-Maffei Wegmann on the armor project. That German struggle for the leading role on the future tank system is seen as risking the work share for the French partner, Nexter.
KMW and Nexter had expected to share the work on MGCS on a 50-50 basis, reflecting their equal stakes in the cross-border KNDS joint venture formed in 2015. The MGCS tank and unmanned systems are due to enter service in 2035.
MGCS is important for France but also for the German army, the French army chief of staff, general Pierre Schill, told parliamentarians Oct. 12.
While there were industrial issues to take into account, “the army has a strategic need to have a MGCS delivered in 2035,” he said. “Despite the difficulties that go with a cooperative project, we must pursue our studies with our German allies on the operational needs that we share.”
Belgium is the only other European nation to have ordered Scorpion vehicles, he said, but there could be development of a “Scorpion community” through interoperability with Luxembourg and Netherlands, and perhaps Germany.
Belgium has ordered Jaguar and Griffon vehicles through its Capacité Mobilisé (CaMo) program.
Eurosatory provided a showcase for the competing corporate advances on the tank front, with Rheinmetall unveiling a technology demonstrator for its KF 51 Panther, while KNDS showed an updated demonstrator of its Enhanced Main Battle Tank (E-MBT).
Pitching the two competing tank prototypes to the world market signalled MGCS might be on borrowed time, a research note said.
“We are increasingly unable to escape the conclusion that both groups increasingly expect (or hope for?) MGCS to go the same way as the parallel SCAF/FCAS combat air “cooperation”, and collapse due to a combination of national political/industrial rivalries and technological over-ambition (= cost and time),” Agency Partners, an equity research company, said in a June 21 research note titled European Defence.
The army’s success in winning funding for its modernization drive stems partly from the use of a brand name – Scorpion – after a long backstory of finishing last in the inter-service race for the military budget.
The nuclear deterrent was ring fenced in the budget, while the air force and navy won funds for big ticket items such as fighter jets, nuclear ballistic missile submarines, frigates and an aircraft carrier.
That left the army behind as poor bloody infantry when it came to securing funds, unless a catchy program name could be found. Army planners came up with Scorpion, and secured some €10 billion.
Featured Graphic: Leclerc MBT, Serval VBMR-L, JAGUAR armoured vehicles, Griffon VBMR APC Source: nexter-group.fr