Germany back with France on MGCS after rumours of a separate tank project with Italy, Spain and Sweden

By Vittorio Ippolito (Finabel - European Army Interoperability Centre)

On 11 September, Handelsblatt 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.


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. According to Handelsblatt, 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.


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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. Defense News 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. 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.


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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, who was initially particularly invested in MGCS. The Italian Ministry of Defence, however, was only allowed in as a secondary observer and later became uninterested after development delays. 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. Now, after the meeting with France, Germany affirmed it will still pursue the project but not as a competing alternative to MGCS.


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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, as it was interestingly omitted in its 2023 military budget projections.


This article was originally published on the website of Finabel – European Army Interoperability Centre.


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