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Italy Might Join the Main Ground Combat System (MGCS) Initiative

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Written by Francesco Baronio

Edited by Stef Clement

Supervised by Ginevra Bertamini

On 24 August, La Tribune reported that France and Italy agreed on proposing to Germany Rome’s inclusion, represented by Leonardo, a prominent Italian defence company, in the Main Ground Combat System (MGCS) programme (Cabirol, 2023). The MGCS aims to develop a future land warfare system that includes a Main Battle Tank (MBT) around 2040 (Oestergaard, 2021). This news was unsurprising since Italian participation had already been envisaged (Valpolini, 2020; Arivella & Moran, 2022). Until now, Paris has opposed the inclusion of other states. However, this move reflects an effort to restore balance in the initiative’s power dynamics, taking advantage of the fruitful history of Franco-Italian defence industrial cooperation (Defence Industry Europe, 2023; Meta Défense, 2023).

The MGCS was originally built around KMW+Nexter Defense Systems (KNDS), a 50-50 joint venture between the German Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW) and the French Nexter (Bonsignore, 2020). This industrial structure was aimed at establishing a balance between Berlin and Paris. Eventually, Rheinmetall, a leading German defence firm, was included in the programme, so that the final work-sharing agreement featured a contract subdivided in nine packages with Nexter, KMW and Rheinmetall being each responsible for three of them (Bonsignore, 2020). This sparked French preoccupation over a potential leading role assumed by Germany and explains why Paris now wants to include Rome in the programme (Meta Défense, 2023).

For its part, Italy announced the purchase of an indefinite number of Leopard 2A8 MBTs and the upgrading of 125 Ariete MBTs in July (Camera dei Deputati, 2023). Simultaneously, Italian Defence Undersecretary Isabella Rauti announced a deeper cooperation with Germany, eyeing a possible inclusion in the MGCS programme (Camera dei Deputati, 2023). Former Italian Chief of Staff Salvatore Farina (2023) pointed out that upgraded Ariete C2s will be available from 2024, whereas new Leopards will arrive after 2028. Under the current upgrading programme, the Ariete will end its operational life around 2034 (Kington, 2023). Therefore, MGCS could provide the Italian Armed Forces with a next-generation MBT after this time frame.

Italy’s inclusion is relevant from an industrial standpoint as it could bring significant expertise, particularly regarding sensors and electronics (Arivella & Moran, 2022). At the same time, the merger between KMW and Nexter risks concentrating the defence land sector alongside the Franco-German axis, challenging the Italian industrial base (Marrone, 2020). Hence, being included in the project would allow Italian firms to retain know-how and skills (Marrone, 2020). Furthermore, the Italian contribution would allow the distribution of development costs among three actors rather than two (Arivella & Moran, 2022). Rome may also provide effective mediation between Berlin and Paris (Arivella & Moran, 2022). While Italy and France cooperate on multiple projects, defence industrial relations between Italy and Germany are equally positive (Arivella & Moran, 2022). Rome’s decision to purchase Leopard 2A8s further reinforces these ties.


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