Among the many lessons inherited from the conflict in Ukraine, the central role of the battle tank in land manoeuvre, whether offensive or defensive, is probably the one that most contradicted many certainties inherited from the end of the Cold War, as well as the 2 Iraqi wars. For many armed forces, until recently, the battle tank was a heritage on the verge of obsolescence, faced with the multiplication and densification of threats with the arrival of increasingly efficient anti-tank systems, including in the hands of the infantry. In Ukraine, however, as this was the case in Nagorno Karabakh two years earlier, it quickly became clear that despite these threats, and the central role taken over by artillery, the battle tank, and more generally heavy armored vehicles, had retained this unique ability to break through enemy lines, as well as to repel enemy attacks. In fact, and even if the phenomenon had restarted for several years, all the world's major armies, and European ones in particular, have once again put the heavy tank at the heart of their planning. Thus, while the combat tank market experienced a period of dead calm for nearly 20 years, it has experienced dazzling growth over the past 3 years, including for armies which, until recently, were very much considering seriously to remove this type of armor from their inventory.
France is no exception, even if the Army has done everything to maintain such a capability, including during the years 2010-2015, the most critical in budgetary and political terms. Thus, the Army has maintained 3 cuirassier regiments, each armed with around fifty Leclerc heavy tanks, while two armored regiments have a Leclerc company alongside their infantry combat vehicles, for a total of 220 Leclerc in service to date. In addition, 200 of these tanks, which were delivered during the 90s, are being modernized, in particular to integrate the infocentric battle bubble SCORPION alongside the Griffons and Servals replacing the venerable VABs, and the Jaguars replacing the AMX10RC and EBC90. Above all, Paris and Berlin launched, in 2017, a joint program aimed at developing the replacement for the Leclerc but also for the Leopard 2035 by 2. Designated Main Ground Combat System or MGCS, this program meets, like its counterpart SCAF for the replacement of the Rafale and Typhoon fighter planes, many industrial and political difficulties, to the point that its sustainability is now more than threatened, as are the deadlines targeted.
If the trajectory followed by Paris and Berlin was reasonable and coherent in 2017 when it was started, the context and the threat have evolved considerably since then, to the point that it could be relevant to consider an acceleration of the MGCS program to respond to it. However, given the difficulties encountered by the two countries in their collaboration, such a solution seems difficult to implement, opening the way to a second alternative, the design and construction, in a short time frame, of a direct successor to the char Leclerc, which we will call in this article "Leclerc 2" to mark its direct filiation. And as we will see, France would, in a very factual way, have every interest in engaging in such an approach, both to meet the short and medium term needs of the Army, and to have a platform - Versatile tracked form able to accommodate its emerging needs in terms of high intensity, as well as to seize real industrial opportunities in Europe and around the world.
What could the Leclerc 2 tank be?
Like the Challenger 3 started across the Channel, a Leclerc 2 program would aim to integrate into the existing Leclerc platform, new capabilities resulting from technological advances developed in recent years. This would entail, for example, equipping the armored vehicle with advanced communication and cooperative engagement capabilities, as well as next-generation vetronics, like that which equips other programs of the same type, such as the German KF-51 Panther. The lethality of the tank should also be extended, whether it is a matter of carrying a larger caliber gun like the 140mm Nexter ASCALON, or to equip the tank with additional strike capabilities by equipping it with medium-range anti-tank missiles like the Akheron MP. The tank's survivability would also be increased, with the native integration of a soft-kill/hard-kill protection system based on, for example, the new APS Prometeus from Nexter which should already equip the Leclerc MLU, Jaguar and Griffon, as well as a multispectral camouflage system like the Salamander. This survivability would be increased by equipping it with a remotely operated cupola equipped with a small caliber gun for close protection, particularly against drones and in an urban environment. Finally, like the trajectory followed across the Atlantic with the AbramsX, it could be relevant to equip the tank with hybrid electric propulsion to increase its autonomy in combat, and giving it stealth movement capabilities.
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