France to send old armoured vehicles, new missiles to Ukraine

PARIS (Reuters) - France will deliver hundreds of old armoured vehicles and new surface-to-air missiles to Ukraine in its war against Russia, French Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu said on Sunday.

In an interview with La Tribune Dimanche, Lecornu said that President Emmanuel Macron, following talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, had asked him to prepare a new aid package, which will include old but still functional French equipment.

"The Ukrainian army needs to defend a very long front line, which requires armoured vehicles; this is absolutely crucial for troop mobility and is part of the Ukrainian requests," he said.

He said France was looking at providing hundreds of VAB (Véhicule de l'Avant Blindé) front-line troop carriers in 2024 and early 2025.

France's army is gradually replacing its thousands of VABs, which first went into operation in the late 1970s, with a new multi-role troop carrier.

Lecornu added that France was also preparing to release a new batch of Aster 30 surface-to-air missiles for the SAMP/T system provided to Kyiv.

The Aster 30 can intercept warplanes, drones and cruise missiles within a range of 120 km.

"Ukraine has an urgent need for better ground-air defence ... Russia is intensifying its strikes, in particular on civilians and civil infrastructure," he said.

Lecornu said he had asked government defence procurement agency DGA (Direction Generale de l'Armement) to make proposals to accelerate production of Aster missiles, manufactured by European group MBDA.

Aster missiles are also being used in the Red Sea, where French frigates defend maritime traffic against attacks from Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen, he said.

Lecornu said last week a decree was published giving the ministry powers to impose stock levels and prioritise contracts.

France is also speeding up the development of remotely operated ammunition for delivery to Ukraine as early as this summer, Lecornu said.

Macron last month suggested the possibility of European nations sending troops to Ukraine, although he cautioned that there was no consensus as allies agreed to ramp up efforts to deliver more munitions to Kyiv.

(Reporting by Geert De Clercq; Editing by Nick Macfie)