With Leopard 2AX, Germany studies an interim tank and potential Plan B in the MGCS program

Barely over a year ago, in April 2023, the German armored vehicle specialist, Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, took the entire European defense sphere by surprise, revealing the new Leopard X. Derived from Leopard 2A7HUN, designed for the Hungarian armies, the new tank integrated new capabilities highly anticipated on the market, including the Israeli Trophy APS system, natively.

Success was not long in coming. In addition to the 18 examples ordered by the Bundeswehr, to replace the Leopard 2A6 sent to Ukraine, Norway, then the Czech Republic, and finally Italy, opted, in just a few months, for this model.

This success inflicted, in passing, a formidable snub on Rheinmetall, which had been trying, since the Eurosatory 2022 show, to promote its KF51 Panther with the Bundeswehr and European armies. As for the KNDS E-MBT demonstrator, it seemed more and more relegated to the rank of exhibition curiosities, neither France nor Germany having shown any interest in it.

Concomitantly with the arrival of Leopard 2A8, KNDS Germany mentioned the development of a final version, the Leopard 2AX, more modern and accomplished, of its tank. This program was shrouded in an aura of mystery, with both the industrialist and the Bundeswehr being particularly uncommunicative about it.

While a few weeks ago, the French and Germans communicated on the progress made to effectively relaunch the MGCS program, this Leopard Nouvelle Génération seemed to have to fade away in the face of the revived Franco-German program.

It is not so. Quite the contrary, since its development is actively carried out by the German defense industry, at the request of the Bundeswehr, to design an interim battle tank between the Leopard 2A8 and the MGCS, militarily and commercially, but also, to have a Plan B in the event of failure of the Franco-German tank, or even a way of confronting France with accomplished facts, in the arbitrations remaining to be carried out, regarding the latter.

The Bundeswehr has launched an R&D phase for an interim tank between Leopard 2A8 and the MGCS program

A few weeks ago, the German website hardpunkt.de, always well informed, published an article about this program, carried out with great discretion by the German land defense industry and the Bundeswehr, on the subject of an evolution of Leopard 2, intended to provide interim relief from 2030, pending the entry into service of the MGCS.

Leopard 2AX derived from Leopard 2 A7HU KNDS
Le Leopard 2A8 is an evolution of Leopard 2A7HUN designed for the Hungarian armies. Note the APS hard-kill Trophy system plate radars

Indeed, it appears, in this article, that the defense industry, like the German armies, is betting on the entry into service of the new Franco-German tank within 20 to 25 years, that is to say between 2045 and 2050.

If you Leopard 2A8 constitutes an “urgent” response to the needs of the German and allied armies, for an evolution of the Leopard 2 equipped with certain new characteristics, the upcoming interim tank, therefore the initial design phase will end in 2026, will have to provide a more mature, integrated and sustainable response to these new needs.

Therefore, like the American M1E3 Abrams, this ultimate evolution of Leopard, seems to be moving towards the design of a truly new tank, as was the Leopard 2 opposite the Leopard 1 previously.

This will see, according to the German site, most of its components profoundly modified, including the structure, the powertrain, and even the armament. Indeed, it will apparently be equipped with the new 130 mm cannon from Rheinmetall equipping the KF51 Panther, the very one which was at the origin of numerous tensions between Nexter and Rheinmetall, within the framework of the MGCS program.

KF51 Panther Rheinmetall
The KF-51 Panther from Rheinmetall will not find its way to the tank battalions of the Bundeswehr. But several of its key components, such as the 130mm gun, could well do so through the Leopard 2AX.

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4 Comments

  1. Good article, although a little pessimistic on certain points in my opinion.
    Of course Rheinmetall could try to impose a standard with the 130 mm, but it is the USA which will have the last word. We have to look at which gun the Americans will put on their future Abrams. Because given the number of tanks they sell, it is they who will set the standard.

    Another point, we have been hearing for decades that France could lose part of its armored force and an entire part of its land defense industry. Until now we have mainly been alarmist. It is also up to manufacturers to keep up with the market, which in my opinion Nexter and Arquus have always had a lot of difficulty doing by building solely to French specifications without paying much attention to the needs of other armies.

    • Completely agree with the NATO gun standard, it will ultimately be a USA decision. Concerning the intermediate tank before the hypothetical arrival of the MGCS, the government must move and order a LECLERC NG demonstrator immediately, Nexter in the image of Dassault should also take its autonomy, move away from the past of GIAT Industries, simple weapon factory of the French army. Because we are going to make the same mistake as for the Leclerc which arrived on a market which had just been equipped with the Leopard and the Abrams so no sales, never leave the role of the salesman to the state.

  2. If “to govern is to plan”, the least we can say is that successive governments have, in terms of armored forces, governed little.

    What is surprising is that the debate was fueled by a number of competent commentators concerned about the national interest without this provoking reactions from successive political powers or from the specialized technostructure: the DGA or the general staff. .

    So why this blindness and this persistence in denial and inertia?

    What is even more astonishing is that the national industry remained on a technical success: the Leclerc.

    So why do we find ourselves in this situation?

    I see two reasons:

    First of all, a pro-European and pro-German ideological blindness leading to a denial of reality and facts, in this case the abandonment by recent German governments of a real desire for cooperation with France in favor of a search for 'hegemony - there are a number of examples in the articles on this site - followed by a spineless attitude of French politicians in the face of the rebuffs and humiliations inflicted by Germany

    On the other hand, an equally blind submission to economic criteria.

    Of course money is scarce and we must try to achieve the best quality-price ratio but it is not financial criteria which should decide the size of the national military tool.

    States were created to ensure the defense and protection, external and internal, of human communities wishing to ensure their survival in a dangerous world.
    The reason for the existence of the State is National Defense, not subsidies to associations or social benefits.

    3%, 4% of the national budget to ensure its survival is a very low amount, especially in the medium term.

    We must renounce blind and vain economism and relate the overall cost of a national battle tank program to the overall annual public expenditure, in this case the State, local authorities and the public hospital sector.

    We must not forget the lessons of history in a country which has recently experienced Sedan, the great offensives of Nivelle, the Maginot line and Dien much more etc etc

    It's time to do a little more history and less economics or finance.

    Reading the annual reports of the Court of Auditors suggests that many politicians and enarchs will undoubtedly feel more at ease in this area which will also have the merit of sharpening their blunted sense of reality.

    • I think it's a question of priorities. We are not on the front line.
      The budgets therefore go to fighter planes, the navy, transport, cyber and space. All this is undoubtedly frustrating for riders, but we are in a multi-country configuration. The Poles absolutely have to work on tanks, because to hold out, they need 6 armored divisions.
      We couldn't permanently send 1 DB to Poland, it's too expensive. On the other hand, we can mobilize 2 combat aircraft over Poland in 60 hours. That's the kind of guarantee that people like.

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