Faced with K2 and KF51, is the KNDS EMBT tank the only chance to save the Franco-German MGCS program?

The express tour undertaken by President Volodymyr Zelensky in Europe, which has just ended, did not give rise to the spectacular announcements as certain commentators expected, nor, moreover, did his visit to Washington a few weeks had given rise to immediate announcements. However, and as was the case in the United States, it is a safe bet that the Ukrainian head of state and his British, French and German counterparts took advantage of these face-to-face meetings to prepare for the continuation of aid. European military and economic towards Kyiv. Among the topics discussed, the question of the supply of armored vehicles and artillery systems was very probably at the heart of the concerns of the 4 heads of state, even if, as we have already discussed before, European industry currently suffers from a production deficit to meet the demand generated directly or indirectly by the conflict in Ukraine.

In this area, two manufacturers seem to want to take the lead, including in the face of European governments. The first is the South Korean Hanwha Defense, which produces the K2 Black Panther heavy tank, but also the K9 Thunder self-propelled gun and the AS21 Redback infantry fighting vehicle. The first two systems have already been chosen by Poland to constitute, alongside 300 K239 multiple rocket launchers, the Polish battle corps which will be none other than the most powerful conventional land force on the old continent, with 1250 tanks including 1000 K2s, as well as 672 K9 self-propelled guns. Indeed, after seducing Warsaw, Hanwha Defense seems to have set its sights on Bucharest, by signing a production partnership with the state company Romam to build and export the Thunder and the Redback, knowing that a similar agreement has been concluded with Warsaw concerning the K2, the K9 and probably the K239.

The Leopard 2A7 (left) and the K2 Black Panther (right) were evenly matched during testing in Norway, but the German tank won on political and industrial criteria

Following the visit of the Ukrainian president to Brussels, another industrialist came out of the woodwork to reveal his strategy vis-à-vis the heavy armored vehicle market in Europe. This is the German Rheinmetall which, by the voice of its president Armin Papperger, offered the Head of State production of his new KF51 Panther heavy tank, one of the stars of the last Eurosatory 2022 show, as well as the KF41 Lynx infantry combat vehicle, to arm his forces against the Russian armies. For this, Armin Papperger proposed to Kyiv to produce the new armored vehicles in Germany and in Hungary, which is to date the only export customer of the KF41 Lynx and which negotiated in 2020 the local production of 172 of these armored vehicles, in addition to the 46 units produced in Germany. The hypothesis of local production in Ukraine would have been discussed, even if this could only take place after the conflict, the whole of Ukrainian territory being under the permanent threat of long-range Russian strikes. There is no doubt that the idea will have been found more than attractive by Kyiv, the Panther being a very promising tank and largely superior, on paper at least, to all the Russian models currently in service. However, this offer from Rheinmetall is also a disguised proposal to the Bundeswehr, which would directly threaten the continuation of the Franco-German next-generation tank program MGCS.

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