The future of the MGCS program is getting darker day by day

Long relegated to the background by media and public interest in the FCAS, the Franco-German MGCS program or Main Ground Combat System, which aims to design a common replacement for the Leclerc and the Leopard 2 by 2035, also met, many difficulties since its announcement in 2017.

But, while the future of the FCAS seems to have become clearer over the past year, after the tour de force of the French, Spanish and German Defense Ministers, so as to extract an agreement from their respective manufacturers for phase 1B (study of the demonstrator), that of the heavy armored program, seems to have continued to get darker for several months.

The difficulties of the Franco-German tank MGCS program

Thus, to the already considerable difficulties linked to the arrival of the German Rheinmetall in the program, forcing the Nexter – Krauss-Maffei Wegmann couple initially designated, to completely review the industrial sharing, were added the ambiguous motivations of the industrialist from Düsseldorf, especially since it presented its own intermediate generation tank, the KF51 Panther.

But the real tensions between Paris and Berlin around this program appeared much more recently, when following the war in Ukraine, the world and European demand for tanks started to rise again, with a schedule that was too short to allow the MGCS to position yourself in time.

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Le Leopard 2A8 is derived from Leopard 2HU acquired by Hungary

This is how after the EMBT, a deserving project, but visibly more supported by France and Nexter, than by Germany and KMW, within KNDS, the designer of the Leopard 2 presented, a few months ago, the Leopard 2A8, an evolution of Leopard 2A7HU sold to Hungary, notably integrating some of the most promising recent technologies, such as the APS Hard-Kill Trophy.

The arrival of Leopard 2A8 on a market reinvigorated by the war in Ukraine

Le Leopard 2A8 established itself in just a few months in Europe, the Bundeswehr, but also the Czech Republic, Norway, Italy and probably the Netherlands, having declared themselves buyers. If this success partly deprived Rheinmetall and its KF51 of his ambitions, he also redesigned the commercial and technological market for battle tanks in Europe, on a particularly short time scale.

In fact, the immediate, but also potential, success of the new German tank led German industrialists, soldiers and politicians to rethink the timetable and even the nature of the MGCS program. For manufacturers, the timetable aimed at 2035 was no longer appropriate, since the two commercial phases, that of Leopard 2 rising from its ashes, and that of the MGCS, would overlap too much, and would therefore collide to the detriment of both.

For the German soldiers, but also the French, the technological ambitions displayed for MGCS, as well as the delay taken for 5 years that the program has only evolved at minimum speed, no longer make it possible to respect the objective of 2035, perhaps even that of 2040.

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With the KF51 Panther, Rheinmetall had an alternative to the new Franco-German tank, immediately available and less expensive

German politicians, for their part, had remained rather discreet on the subject until then. This is no longer the case. Indeed, the chairman of the Bundestag's defense budget committee, MP Andreas Schwarz of the SPD (Olaf Scholz's party in the ruling coalition), explicitly spoke out, in a tweet on September 4, in favor of an abandonment of MGCS, so as to concentrate German budgetary and commercial efforts on the Leopard 2 and its developments.

Even the German press, often more analytical and less exaggerated than the French press on defense issues, is wondering about the future of the MGCS program. These doubts are based on the numerous difficulties and disagreements encountered between manufacturers, as well as on the existence of a German "Plan B" with the Leopard 2A8, and especially the future and mysterious Leopard 2AX, which could well be a sort of synthesis between the A8 and the KF51 Panther from Rheinmetall.

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