Can Italy save the Franco-German next-generation tank program MGCS? 2/2

As discussed in the first part of this article, the future of the MGCS program, although solid and balanced at its launch, has deteriorated considerably in recent years, under the combined action of the destabilizing arrival of Rheinmetall imposed by the Bundestag in 2019, and the renewed demand world in terms of heavy tanks in connection with the war in Ukraine.

After an unsuccessful attempt in July by the Minister of the Armed Forces Sébastien Lecornu aimed at reproducing, with his German counterpart Boris Pistorius, the approach which made it possible to unblock the situation around the FCAS program, Paris now seems to have changed its tune.

Indeed, according to the website latribune.fr, France would now like to impose Italy's adherence to the MGCS program, with the objective, in speech at least, of rebalancing it, and therefore, ultimately, of consolidating and saving it.

How, and why, would the arrival of Italy within the MGCS Program be so effective, when Paris and Berlin already cannot agree on the subject? As we will see, the strategy revealed by the Tribune is based on several levers, and on several more or less intertwined levels.

How can Italy save the MGCS program?

The arrival of Italy within the Franco-German program is reminiscent of an identical recent dynamic, when France managed to convince London toopen the door in Rome regarding the FMAN/FMC program Franco-British cruise missile and anti-ship missile of the future.

There are indeed many similarities between these two situations. As with MGCS, the FMAN/FMC program was part of a larger bilateral defense initiative, in this case, the Lancaster-house Accords signed by France and Great Britain in 2010.

Like MGCS, the Franco-British FMAN/FMC program was on hold. The arrival of Italy, announced last June, should make it possible to relaunch it on an effective basis.
Like MGCS, the Franco-British FMAN/FMC program was on hold. The arrival of Italy, announced last June, should make it possible to relaunch it on an effective basis.

As is now the case with the 2017 Franco-German initiative, several programs covered by these agreements have gradually been abandoned. This was particularly the case for the FCAS program, which was to allow France and the United Kingdom to jointly develop a Loyal Wingman type combat drone by 2030.

Finally, as with the MGCS program, the FMAN/FMC program had been at a standstill for several months, and even several years, due to disagreements between the two countries regarding the technologies used, the desired performances and its timetable.

The arrival of Italy, already a partner of France in the Eurosam program which gave birth to the Aster family of missiles, was announced last June, again following a French invitation. Its purpose was to consolidate the program, but also to rebalance it, and thus make it possible to obtain the arbitrations necessary for its continuation.

Obviously, Paris was inspired by this dynamic, as by that found in recent months with Rome in terms of defense cooperation, to try to get the MGCS program out of the rut in which it has found itself for too long, point to threaten the future of heavy tanks within the Army in the years to come.

A Franco-Italian coalition upside down in the recent history of the program

However, this would be a profound change of posture on the part of France. Indeed, until now, France has been the main obstacle to opening up the MGCS program to other European partners.

challenger 3 e1624635380169 Construction of armored vehicles | Germany | Defense Analysis
The British Challenger III will be based on numerous German components, including the 120 mm Rh-120 cannon from Rheinmetall which also equips the Leopard 2

Already, in 2021, London had made known its interest in this program, and Berlin its willingness to open up to other participants in the near future. A few months later, in April 2022, Germany even took the lead in this area, announcing that it wanted to quickly open the MGCS program to certain European partners such as Poland, Norway, Great Britain and Italy !

At that time, not so long ago, it was France which opposed this development. According to Paris, the opening of the MGCS program could only be considered once the study phase was completed, the technological decisions had been made, and the industrial trajectory had been perfectly defined.

In this context, one could think, until recently, that the acquisition of 125 tanks Leopard 2A8 by Rome, could be the opportunity for Berlin to try to convince Paris to change posture on this subject. The reverse was then not even considered.

In fact, the announcement, relayed by the Tribune, of the French desire to "impose" Rome's accession on Berlin, seems paradoxical to say the least, even provocative from a certain point of view for Germany, and shows, at the very least, a profound paradigm shift on the part of Paris on this subject.

Trace power relations within the program

The primary objective of Paris, or at least that put forward as such by the article in the Tribune, is to redefine the balance of power in the MGCS program. As we saw in the first part of the article, the arrival of Rheinmetall, demanded by Berlin in 2019, deeply destabilized the industrial and technological balance of the program.

Rheinmetall panther kf51 main battle tank 1 Armored vehicle construction | Germany | Defense Analysis
The arrival of Italy will make it possible to dilute Rheinmetall's nuisance power within the MGCS program

The arrival of Italy and Leonardo in the program would therefore be an opportunity to reassess the industrial divisions between the three nations and the four major industrialists, and thus, we can hope, to put an end to the sterile oppositions between Nexter and Rheinmetall.


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