Written by Vittorio Ippolito
Edited by Michele Puggia
Supervised by Ginevra Bertamini
On 11 September, Handelsblatt (2023) reported that Germany was moving away from the Main Ground Combat System (MGCS), a Franco-German joint venture for the development of a next-generation main battle tank (MBT). On 22 September, however, a new meeting between the French and German MoDs rebuilt hope for the project, although postponing its delivery up to 2045 (Kayali et al., 2023).
The collaboration is led by Nexter on the French side and by Krauss-Maffei-Wegmann (KMW) and Rheinmetall on the German end. MGCS was launched in 2017 with the intent to replace German Leopard 2 and French Leclerc tanks with a new MBT, at the time by 2035 (Dean, 2023). According to Handelsblatt (2023), however, differences between the two allies had become so great that Berlin started talks with Italy’s Leonardo, Sweden’s Saab and an unspecified third Spanish company to join forces for a competing MBT collaboration.
French and German contractors have been reportedly hindered in their negotiations by their governments’ disagreements on how the new tank should be built and by whom (Bezat, 2023). Defense News (Sprenger et al., 2023) offers an insight by Gaspard Schnitzler, research director at the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs, who points at divergent expectations on the vehicle’s firepower, barrel gun calibre and shell ammunition type. In a bid to establish a first for the next NATO standard, in fact, KDNS (a Nexter and KMW joint company) proposed a 140mm cannon while Rheinmetall insisted on a 130mm barrel (Sprenger et al., 2023). As a matter of fact, it was specifically after Rheinmetall’s entry into the project that French authorities began to worry about the newly acquired German leverage (Bezat, 2023).
This summer France attempted to re-establish the perceived loss of balance in the project by sponsoring the entry of a trusted military partner, Italy (Cabirol, 2023; Meta-Défense, 2023), who was initially particularly invested in MGCS (Baronio, 2023). The Italian Ministry of Defence, however, was only allowed in as a secondary observer and later became uninterested after development delays (Rossi, 2023). Then, in the past two weeks, Germany apparently tried persuading Italy, Sweden (another MGCS observer) and Spain to apply for European Defence Fund (EDF) monetary aid for a separate MBT venture (Time News, 2023; EDF Funding & Tender Opportunities, 2023). Now, after the meeting with France, Germany affirmed it will still pursue the project but not as a competing alternative to MGCS (Abboud et al., 2023; Ruitenberg, 2023).
The consequences of a separate deal would have been harsh for France’s interests. According to Schnitzler, Paris needs a new tank more than Berlin, as the latter is already planning alternatives like the KF51 Panther and the new A8 Leopard 2 variant. The bilateral meeting’s recent success likely testifies the realisation of the two allies’ mutual need for partnership. Crucially, France pledged to re-insert MGCS in its military budget for 2024 (Abboud et al., 2023; Ruitenberg, 2023), as it was interestingly omitted in its 2023 military budget projections (Battaglia, 2023; Machi, 2023).
Abboud, L., & Pfeifer, S. (2023, September 21). France and Germany back ‘milestone’ development in joint tank project. Financial Times. https://www.ft.com/content/1c6d9c06-508e-4f4c-92af-6fdd44cc6ff9
Baronio, F. (2023, September 1). Italy Might Join the Main Ground Combat System (MGCS) Initiative. Finabel – European Army Interoperability Centre. https://finabel.org/italy-might-join-the-main-ground-combat-system-mgcs-initiative/
Battaglia, M. (2023, September 7). Italy and Germany join forces on tanks. Are jets next?. Decode39. https://decode39.com/7658/italy-and-germany-join-forces-on-tanks-are-jets-next/
Bezat, J. M. (2023, September 14). Defense: ‘When France looks to the long term, Germany responds politely, but puts its short-term interests first’. Le Monde. https://www.lemonde.fr/en/opinion/article/2023/09/14/defense-when-france-looks-to-the-long-term-germany-responds-politely-but-puts-its-short-term-interests-first_6134821_23.html
Cabirol, M. (2023, August 24). Programme MGCS (char du futur): la proposition française de la dernière chance?. La Tribune. https://www.latribune.fr/entreprises-finance/industrie/aeronautique-defense/programme-mgcs-char-du-futur-la-proposition-francaise-de-la-derniere-chance-973551.html
Dean, S. E. (2023, January 23). Main Ground Combat System (MGCS): A Status Report. European Security & Defence. https://euro-sd.com/2023/01/articles/29122/main-ground-combat-system-mgcs-a-status-report/
European Commission. Main battle tank platform systems, F&T Portal of the European Commission. Funding & tenders (europa.eu)
Kayali, L., & Larson, C. (2023, September 22). France and Germany give new push to joint next-generation battle tank. Politico. https://www.politico.eu/article/france-germany-give-new-push-to-joint-next-generation-battle-tank/
Machi, V. (2022, September 28). French 2023 defense budget adds $3 billion to fund ‘war economy’. Defense News. https://www.defensenews.com/global/europe/2022/09/28/french-2023-defense-budget-adds-3-billion-to-fund-war-economy/
Meta-Défense. (2023, August 25) Will Italy save the Franco-German next-generation tank program MGCS? 1/2. Meta-Défense. https://meta-defense.fr/en/2023/08/25/programme-mgcs-italie-france-allemagne/
Murphy, M., Koch., M., Specht, F., & Waschinski G. (2023, September, 11). So startet Deutschland eine neue Kampfpanzer-Allianz. Handelsblatt. https://www.handelsblatt.com/politik/international/leopard-2-nachfolger-so-startet-deutschland-eine-neue-kampfpanzer-allianz/29374860.html
Rossi, C. (2023, September 18). Che ne sarà del programma Mgcs franco-tedesco?. START Magazine. https://www.startmag.it/smartcity/che-ne-sara-del-programma-mgcs-franco-tedesco/
Ruitenberg, R. (2023, September 20). France, Germany remain committed to new tank, defense ministers say. Defense News. https://www.defensenews.com/global/europe/2023/09/20/france-germany-remain-committed-to-new-tank-defense-ministers-say/
Sprenger, S., Machi, V., Chuter, A., & Adamowski, J. (2023, September 7). Europe’s PowerPoint panzer: Can Berlin and Paris pull off a new tank?. Defense News. https://www.defensenews.com/global/europe/2023/09/07/europes-powerpoint-panzer-can-berlin-and-paris-pull-off-a-new-tank/ Time News. (2023, September 7). Spain, Italy and Sweden could enter into the project for a new European tank, successor to the Leopard 2, hand in hand with Germany. Time News. https://time.news/spain-italy-and-sweden-could-enter-into-the-project-for-a-new-european-tank-successor-to-the-leopard-2-hand-in-hand-with-germany/