France has launched the first phase of its strategic Contact tactical radio programme, aimed to enhance the security and tactical combat capabilities of its dismounted infantry and armoured vehicles.

French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet said that Contact was part of an ambitious set of programmes, defined by the military planning law, to modernise the equipment of the armed forces.

"The launch of the Contact programme is necessary and cannot suffer any delays related to economic conditions. It’s the same for all the major equipment programmes for our forces," Longuet added.

Thales Communications has been selected for the €263m first phase of the programme, which will be broadly focused on development work.

An essential element of the SCORPION programme, Contact tactical radios will form a crucial part of the security and tactical combat capabilities of dismounted French armed forces and armoured vehicles deployed on operations.

Based on the ‘software-defined radio’ concept, the new-generation radios will be equipped on the army’s future multirole armoured vehicle (VBMR), which is set to replace the current véhicule de l’avant blindé (VAB) armoured vehicle.

The radios, to be delivered to the French armed forces in 2018, are fully compatible with battlefield digitisation programmes and the FELIN future soldier programme and are also interoperable with communication systems used by France’s allies.

The French Ministry of Defence also has plans to equip its combat, intelligence and transport aircraft, as well as naval ships, with Contact radios, in the second phase of the programme.

The majority of work on the programme will be undertaken in Paris, with manufacture of the radio hardware to take place in Cholet, in western France.

An industrial supply chain will support Thales by providing components, electronic boards and software.