Saturday, March 2, 2024

Which armored vehicle to replace Leclerc if the MGCS program were to be postponed?

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These last few days have probably been the most difficult regarding the Main Ground Combat System, or MGCS, program, initially intended to replace the Leclerc and Leopard 2 from 2035. Indeed, in quick succession, several announcements have been made across the Rhine, leaving assume that this deadline would no longer be respected. Thus, according to the Bundeswehr , the industrial blockages that the program faces today would now prohibit entry into service in 2035.

A few days earlier, Suzanne Weigand, the CEO of RENK, which designs and manufactures the very critical transmissions for French and German tanks, declared in an interview that this same deadline was no longer desirable while the immediate demand for new combat tanks will redistribute the face of the addressable market in 2035.

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The final blow was delivered at the end of the week by Krauss Maffei Wegmann, the designer of the Leopard 2, who presented a new 2A8 version of his tank , and indicated that a more advanced version, still designated 2AX, was in development for entry into service within 2 or 3 years.

MGCS program schedule under threat

Obviously, it will soon be impossible to continue hoping that the first MGCS will replace the French Leclerc and German Leopard 2 from 2035, the date of 2045 being often cited across the Rhine.

This deadline is even, from a certain point of view, probably optimistic given the reality of the market reversal concerning heavy tanks that we are witnessing today in Europe and around the world. As we mentioned in our previous articles on the subject, such a postponement would undermine both the French Army and the national Land Defense Industrial and Technological Base.

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The first, in fact, does not today have the possibility of strengthening or modernizing its Leclerc fleet as it should to reach such a deadline, or at least nothing indicates to date in the French military programming that the The hypothesis has been treated in its entirety. The second, for its part, has an optimized load plan with the SCORPION program taking it until 2035, and was counting on the TITAN program , of which MGCS is the main pillar, to take over at this deadline.

A MGCS delay would undermine the Army's TITAN program
The Army's TITAN program is an evolution of the SCORPION program integrating the heavy armored component

In fact, if, as is now very likely, the MGCS program were to be postponed without being canceled, it will be necessary for Paris to find an interim solution capable of simultaneously meeting the needs of the Army as well as those of Defense Industry land, so as to preserve the capacities and ambitions of both.

Towards an interim solution for the Army

Several articles published on this site have already studied some options, such as the EMBT demonstrator and its very promising turret developed by Nexter , or even by turning to an exogenous solution, such as the KF51 Panther from Rheinmetall , the Polish K2PL or the new Leopard 2AX in design course at KMW, Nexter’s partner within the KNDS group.

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However, these analyzes were based on the study of an existing solution, to determine its relevance and sustainability in the event of an increase in format, and not to respond to a postponement of MGCS. In this article, conversely, we will start from the needs, the international and commercial context, but also the lessons from the War in Ukraine on this subject, to establish what would be the best response that the French Defense Industry could provide.

Only a few years ago, most staffs considered the battle tank to be a relic of the past. For many, the progress made in recent decades in anti-tank munitions, but also in prowling munitions and precision artillery or airborne munitions, made the tank too vulnerable to be able to play its role on the battlefield. The examples of post-Cold War engagements, particularly in Chechnya, Iraq and Afghanistan, tended to support this perception.

LOGO meta defense 70 MBT battle tanks | Defense Analysis | Russian-Ukrainian conflict

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Fabrice Wolf
Fabrice Wolf
A former French naval aeronautics pilot, Fabrice is the editor and main author of the site. His areas of expertise are military aeronautics, defense economics, air and submarine warfare, and Akita inu.

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  1. As always very stimulating. To be completed by an economic analysis. France did not plan a massive battle force. At most a few hundred units, which makes it illusory to make a program of this magnitude profitable. It seems to me that in your previous articles, you mentioned the possibility of buying a base (engine, transmission, etc.) from the Germans and completing it with French elements (turret, cannon, electronics, etc.). Failing to make the same tank, why not share common bricks which would be amortized over longer series and build two different products (heavy German, medium French)

    • The problem is that the Germans are moving forward very quickly and on their own on this subject. They have no interest in developing a “complementary” range or even supporting its emergence. Some elements, like the transmission (Renk) and probably the engine (MTU), will be German anyway. But to increase budgetary sustainability, it seems more relevant to me to rely on other potential partners. We must also not forget that the aim is precisely to preserve industrial skills, which today are clearly threatened by the evolution of the MGCS program.

  2. Why not stay on a 45-ton machine with a heavy combat version (140mm Ascalon system + 25mm remote-operated cannon) and an infantry combat version (50% CTA 40mm remote-operated turret + missiles – 50% remote-operated heavy machine gun turret and launcher 40mm grenade + rockets) for breakthrough and urban combat?

    And keep for the bulk of the forces 8×8 of 30 tons: support version (with a 120mm remotely operated turret + 25mm cannon) and infantry combat version (50% remotely operated CTA 40mm turret + missiles – 50% remotely operated turret heavy machine gun and 40mm grenade launcher + rockets)

    Keeping reasonable masses for operational mobility (thanks to active protection) and having common chassis for the “tanks” and “IVC” of each class allows economies of scale and control of acquisition costs, MCO and logistical needs.

    Heavy MBTs are especially relevant currently for countries in NATO marches, or for lack of alternatives. But what operational mobility and employment prospects for these MBTs stationed in France, Spain, the UK, etc.? And to intervene if necessary elsewhere than on the “Eastern Front”? Let's stop preparing for the previous or current war and turn to the foreseeable needs. Let's leave this heavy panzer market to the Germans.

    It seems to me that many countries would find an advantage in this model (India in particular) to finance development or later to equip their forces.

    • 140 mm and 45 tonnes… not sure it works. It is possible in a tank destroyer version but the war in Ukraine showed precisely that this approach, which can be described as conservative, posed real problems because armored vehicles do not have the required mobility. We can also question the added value of a 140 mm tube when the vast majority of engagements take place at less than 1000 m, a distance at which a 105 HP is sufficient to pierce almost anything. A 105 that is lighter and faster in rate of fire and angular velocity seems to me to respond much better to the lessons of the war in Ukraine.

      • Concerning the caliber suitable for the high end of the firepower spectrum, Nexter suggests that its Ascalon solution would be suitable for machines weighing less than 50 tonnes by 2025, with telescoped ammunition for direct or indirect fire. (if that doesn't work we can keep the 120mm, which should maintain good effectiveness up to 2000 meters.) I am quite reserved about the idea of ​​basing our military model for the next 20 years on observations in Ukraine, at the risk to have as usual a war of delay... I hope that we consider a more dynamic approach to gain the upper hand at the start of a conflict over a possible adversary. There are vast plains in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East where a necessarily small contingent of Western armor would be relieved to take advantage of superior firepower and reach to defeat (without air superiority) the masses of MBTs of varied origin. I sincerely hope that we will never have to intervene against a Russia reinvigorated and equipped by China, or against Algeria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran or a Chinese expeditionary force in an area of ​​major interest, but this is what we must prepare for. I imagine that in urban combat the 140mm with suitable shells can certainly be of great service. Conversely, a 45 ton tank to carry a simple 105mm HP seems a little oversized to me compared to its operational added value, even if this would make the ammunition supply and combat autonomy more comfortable.

    • And why not the Japanese Type 10, a modern tank more compact than the Leclerc, weighing 40 to 48 tons depending on the modular armor carried.
      The cost of francization would be much lower than an R&D effort, and would be equipped with French weapons and electronics.
      An opportunity to engage in cooperation with Japan.

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