FCAS, MGCS… Will the new European military equipment arrive too late?

In an interview given to the lesecho.fr website, Franck Haun, the CEO of the KNDS group which brings together the German Krauss Maffei Wegman and the French Nexter, called on the French and German governments to accelerate the program Main Ground Combat System or MGCS, which according to him, should not at the current rate of things, not reach a delivery before 2040 and even 2045. If the considerations of Franck Haun are above all industrial, calling in particular to expand the program on the European scene, it remains nonetheless true that an objective analysis of the calendars of current programs, MGCS like FCAS, the new generation combat aircraft program that brings together France, Germany and Spain, and which also does not foresee an operational entry before 2040, shows that they no longer correspond to future needs armies, nor to the world industrial and technological rhythm which has been strongly upset in recent years by Russia and China.

Indeed, even as international tensions continue to grow, with deadlines for potential conflict in the medium and even short term, both Moscow and Beijing have profoundly changed the tempo but also the very purpose of the military programs in progress. Thus, for Moscow, Su-57 fighter aircraft, S70 Ohnotnik B heavy combat drone or the new generation of armored vehicles bringing together the heavy tracked armored vehicles of the Armata family, medium tracked armored vehicles of the Kurganet family, and the medium armored vehicles on wheels of the Bumerang family, all are designed to enter service in the next few years, even though work on a new generation of combat aircraft and armored vehicles by 2040 is already underway. The same is true in China, with the 20th generation J-35 and J-5 fighter planes, and armored vehicles being equipped such as the Type-99A or the Type-15, themselves also to be replaced by a new generation of equipment by 2040.

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The T-14 Armata battle tank is due to enter service in 2023 with the Russian armed forces, and offers capabilities at least equivalent, and often significantly superior, to those of the best Western tanks in service.

However, neither fighter planes Rafale et Typhoon, nor the heavy tanks Leclerc or Leopard 2, whatever their planned degree of modernization, are not or will not be capable of gaining technological ascendancy over the Su-57, J-35 and other Armatas, which will perfectly predictably leave the European armies in a situation of severe operational inferiority over the next two decades, numerically outclassed and without any notable technological advantage, facing Russian and Chinese forces, but also those that they could equip in the form of proxies. Under these conditions, the question posed in the title, namely whether the MGCS and FCAS programs, but also all European defense programs, will arrive too late, seems to find an obvious answer.

But the implications of this delay are likely to go well beyond a period of vulnerability of ten or fifteen years. Indeed, Beijing, Moscow, but also Washington, seem to have integrated the profound change in the technological tempo of defense equipment, in a new form of Cold War which has obviously not yet been assimilated by European leaders. Indeed, the current programs in these countries all have relatively short-term objectives, while anticipating a new generation of materials in the medium term. This implies that the generational lifespan of this new equipment has increased, conceptually, from the 30 to 40 years which was the norm during the post-cold war period, for a period of 15 to 20 years, the same as that which prevailed at the end of the Cold War.

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