Will Italy save the Franco-German next-generation tank program MGCS? 1/2

France could try to integrate Italy into the MGCS program, according to the site latribune.fr. For Paris, this decision seems destined to save the Franco-German program, today threatened from all sides, in particular by a German industry which is reviving its former successes on the export market.

The start of the 2023 school year is likely to be eventful, to say the least, for manufacturers in the French defense industrial and technological base. While the 2024-2030 Military Programming Law was passed by Parliament just before the summer break, it will be necessary, in fact, for the Ministry of the Armed Forces to begin negotiations to give substance to the ambitions developed by it, which forecasts an increase in the Armed Forces budget of nearly 30% over the next seven years.

The Franco-German Main Ground Combat System, or MGCS, program which must design the future replacement for the Leclerc tank and the tank Leopard 2 by 2035 or 2040, is one of these hot issues that Sébastien Lecornu and his teams will need to address urgently in the weeks to come.

Indeed, under tension and in technical stop for several months, this program could not be released by the meeting between the French Minister for the Armed Forces and his German counterpart, Boris Pistorius, in July.

lecornu robles Pistorius FCAS 1B e1683031737378 MBT combat tanks | Germany | Defense Analysis
It took the firm intervention of the 3 French, Spanish and German Defense Ministers, in May 2022, to put the FCAS program back on a healthier trajectory.

Worse, tensions between France and Germany in this area increased during the summer, when Paris, for the occasion allied with Rome, opposes Berlin on the subject of a European study designated FMBT, treating precisely of the tank of the future in Europe.

It is in this context that the latribune.fr website has just published some very surprising information. France would have, according to this site, decided to support the integration of Italy in the MGCS program, so as to rebalance the internal balance of power, with the stated objective of saving it in the face of the tensions which handicap it.

In many aspects, this upcoming announcement would be the opposite of the French positions expressed so far. To understand its ins and outs, it is therefore appropriate to return to the Genesis of this program, and to these successive developments.

The honeymoon of Franco-German defense programs will have been short

It was during the summer of 2017 that the MGCS program, and with it several other defense programs in bilateral Franco-German cooperation, took its current form, although its origins date back a few years earlier. At that moment, the stars, and even the galaxies, seemed perfectly aligned for this.

A historic convergence of Franco-German ambitions in 2017

In France, the new French president, Emmanuel Macron, was more determined than his predecessors concerning the national defense effort and the reconstruction of the armies, while being a fervent follower of European programs in this field.

Across the Rhine, relations between Berlin and Washington, and more particularly between President Trump and Chancellor Angela Merkel, were particularly degraded. In fact, the German authorities were, in 2017, much more open than they had been previously, to possible defense programs in cooperation.

Merkel macron defense MBT combat tanks | Germany | Defense Analysis
In 2017, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel seemed to share a common ambition around the emergence of European defense.

What's more, the Chancellor was sensitive to the ambitions of the new French president, around the European Defense project and European strategic autonomy.

In fact, in autumn 2017, Paris and Berlin announced a vast and ambitious joint initiative to give substance to this Europe of Defense, through several Franco-German defense industrial programs: the FCAS to replace Rafale and the Eurofighter Typhoon, the CIFS in the field of artillery, the MAWS in that of maritime patrol or even the Tiger III to modernize the combat helicopter fleet of the two armies.

Divergences appear from 2019

Quickly, however, differences appeared between Paris and Berlin, both in the industrial and technological fields, and concerning the political positioning and the trajectory pursued by the two chancelleries, exacerbated, it is true, by the warming of bilateral relations between Washington and Berlin. with the election of Joe Biden to the White House.

Successively, Berlin withdrew, more or less directly, programs Tiger III, CIFS et MAWS. The FCAS program, meanwhile, was the subject of intense negotiations between Airbus DS and Dassault Aviation, concerning the industrial sharing and piloting of the first pillar of the program, the design of the NGF combat aircraft itself, bringing it to the brink of implosion.

RCH155 KMW 005 e1684249329279 MBT battle tanks | Germany | Defense Analysis
With the end of the CIFS program, German industrialists launched the design of a 155 mm cannon mounted on wheels (here the RCH-155 from KMW) and a multiple rocket launcher.

It had to the firm intervention of the three French, German and Spanish Defense Ministers, to bring aircraft manufacturers back to the negotiating table, and bring about an agreement to begin designing a demonstrator by 2029.

As for the other survivor of the Franco-German ambition of 2017, the MGCS program, it too has been in a difficult situation for several years, without the ministers in charge having allowed, to date, to get out of the rut he finds himself in.

The MGCS program and Nexter's participation under threat

However, initially, the MGCS program, which was to allow the replacement of French Leclerc tanks and Leopard 2 German initiatives with a deadline of 2035, seemed much more solid in ambition and trajectory than the other Franco-German initiatives.


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