PARIS, Feb. 24 (UPI) -- France will purchase 260 Javelin missiles from the United States and has decided to look into a major upgrade of its tank and armored vehicle fleet.
Paris will spend some $70 million on the missiles, produced by a consortium of Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, together with 76 launchers, Defensenews.com reports.
The Javelin is a fire-and-forget anti-tank missile that can be launched by a single soldier. Equipped with an imaging infrared seeker, the missile reaches a peak altitude of 500 feet and is also able to engage helicopters.
French Defense Minister Herve Morin announced the missile purchase at a news conference this week, saying the Javelins would be delivered this year.
The deal comes after a period of intense competition between Israel's Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Washington to supply French forces in Afghanistan with "a relatively small batch of missiles but one that is expected to prepare the way for a larger acquisition in the medium term," Defensenews.com writes.
Rafael had offered its Spike missile but the reportedly cheaper system did not make the cut.
Morin added that France in the medium term would look to purchase a new missile system developed by MBDA, the multinational company owned by European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co., Britain's BAE Systems and Italy's Finmeccanica. A competition will be held to select partners for the new weapon, he said, according to Defensenews.com.
In the same news conference, Morin announced another major investment decision -- namely to launch the study phase of the French army's Scorpion modernization program.
For a total of up to $7 billion, the program is due to outfit several of the French army's joint battle groups with new armored vehicles and a single communications system by 2020.
It envisions the purchase of nearly 1,000 armored multi-role vehicles, or VMBR, 70 light tanks and a modernization of the Leclerc battle tanks.
The purchasing program is scheduled to be launched in 2012, with vehicle deliveries starting three years later.
Several companies are in the race to supply the overall architecture for the program, including EADS, a team of C&S and Ineo, and a consortium comprised of Thales, Sagem and Nexter.
The tender is not without controversy as the head of Boeing France, Yves Galland, had complained that Sagem dropped his company from the team because it was suggested that non-European companies were unwanted in the bidding. Morin denied those allegations.