PARIS, FRANCE — Launched in 2017 by France and Germany, the Main Ground Combat System [MGCS] project, which envisages the development of a new battle tank to be at the center of a “system of systems”, is currently stuck in the architecture study phase SADS Part 1 for almost three years.
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This blockage was largely due to the arrival of Rheinmetall in this project when it should have been led by KNDS, the joint venture created by France’s Nexter and Germany’s Krauss-Maffei Wegmann. Hence the disagreements about the division of tasks between France and Germany [which should be 50-50], as well as about some technological solutions, in particular at the level of the gun to equip the future tank.
This delay is beginning to seriously worry the French government, as the Minister of the Armed Forces, Mr. Sebastien Lecorneau, indicated to MPs this week. “And remember that the Army will need a new tank to replace its Leclercs by 2035 or even 2040,” he said in a statement.
On the German side, however, the idea is beginning to emerge that the design of this “tank of the future” may finally be postponed or even abandoned. In any case, this was suggested by Ms. Susanne Wiegand, CEO of the Renk Group, which in particular supplies the gearbox for the Leopard 2 tank.
“After the Russian attack on Ukraine, many European countries have ordered Leopard 2s from Krauss-Maffei Wegmann for their armed forces, to the extent that perhaps there is no place for the MGCS at the moment,” Ms. Wiegand told the pages of business weekly Wirtschaft Week of April 6. “It will be necessary to assess politically what this new development means for the continuation of MGCS,” she said.
Indeed, in recent months several European countries have ordered – or said they want – the Leopard 2A7+, the latest version of the tank produced by KMW in partnership with Rheinmetall. This is the case with Norway and even the Czech Republic. And Italy would also consider taking some. In addition, the Bundeswehr will also acquire them to replace the Leopard 2A6s.
However, as the German Ministry of Defense also stated before notifying the relevant manufacturers of the SADS Part 1 phase, the MGCS was considered “crucially important” for the industry across the Rhine, given that many European countries intended to replace their main battle tanks by 2035/40. According to open data, the European market is estimated at €100 billion. However, the war in Ukraine accelerated this process.
And that doesn’t necessarily benefit the Leopard 2, as Poland decided to equip its ground forces with South Korean [K-2PL Panther] and American [M1A2 Abrams] tanks. Romania plans to follow suit.
Either way, Ms. Wiegand said the Leopard 2 “is likely to remain the preferred product for some time.” Especially since she pointed out, it is “available” and that “it can be further improved technically.” A source familiar with the German industrialist told Wirtschaft Woche that “even with improvements in defense systems and digital networks, it will still be much cheaper per unit than a newly developed tank.”
Furthermore, the design of a Franco-German tank “of the future” would therefore no longer be a priority for manufacturers across the Rhine. And that would probably explain Rheinmetall’s development of the KF-51 Panther, which would sense the incoming strike. As well as that of KNDS’s E-BMT.
However, it is necessary to distinguish the tank from the MGCS project, as it aims to network different weapon systems, such as ground robots or even drones. The tank is only a figure in a larger program.
“Things like autonomous escort vehicles and, above all, computer applications related to the use of the cloud and artificial intelligence are the most decisive,” explained the lead analyst in the German economic weekly. And “they will have to be developed in any case, whether for Leopard or its successor,” the analysis said.
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