Should France develop a medium tank in parallel with the MGCS program?

It is now no secret that the risk of seeing the French armies engaged in a High Intensity conflict has increased considerably in recent years, and that it will increase in the years and decades to come. It is in this context that Paris and Berlin launched, in 2017, several industrial defense cooperation programs, the most symbolic of which are the new generation SCAF combat aircraft program to replace the French Rafale and German Typhoon, and the MGCS main battle tank program, to replace among others the Leclerc of the Army and the Leopard 2 of the Bundeswehr. Yes these programs have great ambitionstechnology, in particular, they remain nonetheless constrained by the principle of cooperation, both in the industrial and operational fields, while the know-how and doctrines of engagement determining the needs sometimes very different on either side of the Rhine. This largely explains the many difficulties encountered by these two programs currently in the start-up phase, sometimes causing significant tensions between Paris and Berlin.

In a previous article, we had studied the opportunity and the feasibility of developing, in parallel with the SCAF program, a 5th generation single-engine fighter program wanting to be economical and complementary to the SCAF, in order to preserve all the know-how of the French military aeronautics sector, but also to increase the operational capacities of the French armies on a shorter timeframe than that of the SCAF, with an objective of entered service in 2030, not 2040. Obviously, the United States, as part of the US Air Force's NGAD program, But also Russia with the Checkmate program revealed at MAKS 2021, have also identified the need for such an aircraft, reinforcing the heavier aircraft such as the F22 (and its replacement from the NGAD) and the Su-57, but also to meet the needs of many air forces that will be in the inability to equip itself with a heavy and expensive aircraft such as the Su-57 or the future NGF of the SCAF program. In addition to industrial and marketing opportunities, the article also presented an effective financing model, derived from the Defense with Positive Valuation doctrine.

Meeting industrial and operational needs in France

The design and manufacture of a French medium tracked armored vehicle program, with a combat mass ranging from 40 to 50 tonnes, responds, in general terms, to the same observations as in the context of the 5th Generation Single-engine Chasseur. On the one hand, the MGCS program will not allow the French land armaments industry to preserve all of its know-how, especially since on the German side, two giants of the sector are already competing for industrial sharing, Rheinmetall and Krauss-Maffei Wegman. In addition, there is no doubt that Berlin will impose a propulsion system and a transmission of German invoice, to the detriment of French know-how. In the context of a single MGCS program as planned today, with a timetable of almost 30 years, it is impossible for French manufacturers to preserve (and develop) know-how and skills without being able to apply to a major program. Consequently, French industry would inevitably emerge weakened from this industrial cooperation in the long term, since it would then be unable to develop, if necessary, independently a new family of tracked armored vehicles.

The Army will have only 200 Modernized Leclercs until their replacement by the MGCS program beyond 2040, in the heavy tracked armored segment.

The problem is relatively similar from an operational point of view. Indeed, the doctrines of employment of the armored weapon and the tanks in particular, differ greatly between the Army and the Bundeswehr. Germany favors very heavy armored vehicles, particularly well protected, in a defensive posture based above all on the (supposed) superior capacities of its long-range aiming and firing systems, and on heavy armor capable of '' take enemy shells if they are fired from far enough. On the French side, on the other hand, we strongly favor maneuver and dynamic engagement capabilities men and equipment, with lighter but much more mobile armored vehicles. However, there is no doubt that Berlin will impose a particularly heavy tank within the framework of the MGCS program, if only to take over from the 2800 Leopard 2s in service in the world armies. Not only would this not fully correspond to Army doctrine, but it would result in very expensive armored vehicles, like the Leopard 2 or the M1 Abrams, tanks that now cost 50% more. expensive than the Leclerc.

Having very heavy tanks is not useless, even in the case of a dynamic doctrine like that of the Army (or Russian armies). It is indeed important to have an opponent's point of attachment to make the most of the effects of a maneuver. But this also supposes having platforms capable of maneuvering quickly and efficiently on the flanks and in the depth of the opposing device, an area for which very heavy tanks like the M1, the Leopard 2 or the British Challenger are not the most. adapted, with in particular less mobility and above all a greater logistical footprint. In this context, an armored platform of medium tonnage, moreover more mobile and more economical, would constitute a significant added value for the French armies, whether they act alone or in cooperation alongside its Western allies. Finally, the hypothesis of having, from 2030, a new generation tracked armored platform would give the Army very significantly increased engagement capacities in the high intensity field, pending first deliveries of the MGCS program.

Strengthen and secure the MGCS program


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