Since the failure of the meeting between Sébastien Lecornu and Boris Pistorius in Berlin last July , to try to restart the MGCS program for Main Ground Combat System, rumors have been growing that it would now be threatened.
This rumor gained momentum last week, when France announced that it now intended to impose Italy's membership in the program . For France, the arrival of Italy as an equipotential partner would overhaul industrial sharing and the financing of the program, which has now been unstructured since the arrival of Rheinmetall in 2019.
For Germany, on the other hand, it would represent a significant threat to the activity of its two industrialists, Krauss-Maffei Wegmann and Rheinmetall, but also its predominant position within the program itself, due to the unbalanced balance of power. between the two German players and the only French company Nexter.
A degraded climate beyond MGCS between Paris and Berlin
Beyond these internal tensions in the program, relations between Paris and Berlin have weakened considerably in recent months, against a backdrop of radical differences on numerous subjects, such as energy and nuclear power, which shape foreign policy, particularly in Africa. and vis-à-vis Ukraine, or on industrial policy, particularly in the automobile sector.
It is in this extremely tense context that Sébastien Lecornu and Boris Pistorius agreed to meet again during the month of September, precisely to arbitrate the future of the MGCS program. For many observers, particularly Europeans , this meeting could well lead to the end of this cooperation, with it then joining MAWS, CIFS and Tigre III on the altar of the aborted Franco-German projects of 2017.
Such a failure would have numerous consequences, beyond a deterioration of relations between Paris and Berlin. More precisely, three subjects will then have to be quickly arbitrated by France and Germany: the future of the two countries' new generation combat tank programs, that of the 6th generation FCAS combat aircraft program, as well as the future of the KNDS joint venture.
Towards two European programs for new generation battle tanks?
If MGCS were to fail, the need for a new battle tank to replace the armored vehicles currently in service such as the Leopard 2, the Challenger 3, the Leclerc or the Ariete, will remain. The most likely hypothesis to date would be that two European programs would then replace it.
The French successor to MGCS
On the French side, we can easily think that Paris and Rome will jointly undertake to develop a new battle tank. Indeed, unlike Germany, they share the same timetable for replacing the French Leclerc and Italian Ariete, by 2035.
In addition, the armies of the two countries tend to exploit similar doctrines, favoring maneuver and mobility over firepower and armor. This is the reason why both the Leclerc and the Ariete were noticeably lighter and more mobile than their German, British or American counterparts.
Belgium would also be a major potential partner for a new French tank in cooperation, on the basis of the CaMo program which led Brussels to order VBMR, EBRC and Caesar Mk2 to optimize interoperability with the French Army. Note, however, that the Belgian authorities have not indicated that they intend to (re)equip their armies with battle tanks to date.
Other European countries could join a possible Franco-Italian new generation battle tank program. Thus, Spain, which invests massively to support the development of its defense industry, could be tempted by the adventure, to obtain a greater participation than in the German program.
Greece, too, could see an interest in this, especially since Paris, like Rome, maintains very good relations with Athens, particularly on defense issues. Likewise, Portugal, even Croatia or Serbia, would certainly find a response to their expectations.
Paris could also turn to non-European partners to develop its program, such as the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, or even Saudi Arabia in the Middle East. This is also the case for India, which we know wants to develop a replacement for its imposing fleet of T-72s, and which also favors lighter and more mobile armored vehicles.
Indeed, Indian tanks must be able to operate on the difficult and steep terrain of the Himalayan plateaus facing China, as well as in the steppes and valleys of Central Asia facing Pakistan. This is the reason why New Delhi imposes a combat mass of less than 60 tonnes in its call for tenders for the replacement of the T-72s.
In fact, Paris would, if necessary, have several different options for developing a new heavy tank program in international cooperation, perhaps even more adapted to French expectations from both an industrial and political point of view.
The German successor to MGCS
Like France, Germany would also have no shortage of potential partners to develop a successor to the Leopard 2. We are thinking in particular of the declared customers of the Leopard 2A8 or A7HU (Norway, Czech Republic, Hungary and Italy). ), but also to other partners close to Berlin, such as Great Britain, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, and even Poland.
In such a hypothesis, the new program, led by Berlin, would respond to the current challenges of German industry, the very ones which today have created the internal tensions that have come to threaten Franco-German cooperation. In particular, it is likely that it would aim for a later timetable, around 2045, or even 2050, so as to free up commercial space for the Leopard 2A8, the KF51 Panther and the Leopard 2AX to come.
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