What would be the consequences of a failure of the MGCS program?

Since the failure of the meeting between Sébastien Lecornu and Boris Pistorius in Berlin last Julyr, in an attempt to hand over the MGCS program for Main Ground Combat System, the rumor swells that it would now be threatened.

This rumor gained momentum last week, when France announced that it was now hearing force Italy to join the program. For France, the arrival of Italy as an equipotential partner would overhaul industrial sharing and the financing of the program, which has now been unstructured since the arrival of Rheinmetall in 2019.

For Germany, on the other hand, it would represent a major threat to the activity of its two manufacturers, Krauss-Maffei Wegmann and Rheinmetall, but also to its preponderant position within the program itself, due to the very fact of the unbalanced balance of power between the two German actors and the only French Nexter.

A degraded climate beyond MGCS between Paris and Berlin

Beyond these internal tensions in the program, relations between Paris and Berlin have been considerably stretched in recent months, against a backdrop of radical differences on many sizing issues, such as energy and nuclear, foreign policy, particularly in Africa and vis-à-vis Ukraine, or on industrial policy, particularly in the automotive field.

Lecornu pistorius e1689072732457 International technological cooperation Defense | Germany | Defense Analysis
The smiles of Sébastien Lecornu and Boris Pistorius for the photo at the end of the July 2023 meeting in Berlin, mask the absence of solutions to get the MGCS program out of the rut in which it has found itself for three years now.

It is in this extremely tense context that Sébastien Lecornu and Boris Pistorius have agreed to meet again during the month of September, precisely to arbitrate the future of the MGCS program. For many observers, especially European, this meeting could well lead to the end of this cooperation, with it then joining MAWS, CIFS and Tigre III on the altar of the aborted Franco-German projects of 2017.

Such a failure would have many consequences, beyond a deterioration of relations between Paris and Berlin. More precisely, three subjects will then have to be quickly arbitrated by France and Germany: the future of the new generation combat tank programs of the two countries, that of the FCAS program of 6ᵉ generation combat aircraft, as well as the future of the KNDS joint venture.

Towards two European next-generation combat tank programs?

If MGCS were to fail, the need for a new battle tank to replace the armor currently in service like the Leopard 2, the Challenger 3, the Leclerc or the Ariete, will remain. The most likely hypothesis to date would be that two European programs would then replace it.

The French successor to MGCS

On the French side, we can easily think that Paris and Rome will jointly undertake to develop a new battle tank. Indeed, unlike Germany, they share the same timetable for replacing the French Leclerc and Italian Ariete, by 2035.

MGCS was to allow the replacement of French Leclercs from 2035
MGCS was to allow the replacement of French Leclercs from 2035

In addition, the armies of the two countries tend to exploit similar doctrines, favoring maneuver and mobility over firepower and armor. This is the reason why both the Leclerc and the Ariete were noticeably lighter and more mobile than their German, British or American counterparts.

Belgium would also be a major potential partner for a new French tank in cooperation, on the basis of the CaMo program which led Brussels to order VBMR, EBRC and Caesar Mk2 to optimize interoperability with the French Army. Note, however, that the Belgian authorities have not indicated that they intend to (re)equip their armies with battle tanks to date.

Other European countries could join a possible Franco-Italian next-generation battle tank program. Thus, Spain, which invests massively to support the development of its defense industry, could be tempted by the adventure, to obtain a larger participation than in the German program.

Greece, too, could see an interest in this, especially since Paris, like Rome, maintains very good relations with Athens, particularly on defense issues. Likewise, Portugal, even Croatia or Serbia, would certainly find an answer to their expectations there.

EMBT Nexter e1679583822347 International technological cooperation Defense | Germany | Defense Analysis
The EMBT turret presented at Eurosatory 2022 could be a relevant starting point for a successor at Leclerc and Ariete.

Paris could also turn to partners outside Europe to develop its program, such as the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, even Saudi Arabia in the Middle East. This is also the case of India, which we know wants to develop a replacement for its imposing fleet of T-72s, and which also favors lighter and more mobile armor.

Indeed, the Indian tanks must be able to evolve on the difficult and steep terrain of the Himalayan plateaus facing China, as in the steppes and valleys of Central Asia facing Pakistan. This is the reason why New Delhi imposes a combat weight of less than 60 tons in its call for tenders for the replacement of the T-72s.

In fact, Paris would have, if necessary, several different options to develop a new heavy tank program in international cooperation, perhaps even more adapted to French expectations both from an industrial and political point of view.

The German successor to MGCS

Like France, Germany would also have no shortage of potential partners to develop a successor to the Leopard 2. We are thinking in particular of declared customers of the Leopard 2A8 or A7HU (Norway, Czech Republic, Hungary and Italy), but also to other partners close to Berlin, such as Great Britain, the Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, even Poland.

In such a hypothesis, the new program, led by Berlin, would respond to the current challenges of German industry, the very ones which today have created the internal tensions that have come to threaten Franco-German cooperation. In particular, it is likely that it would aim for a more delayed timetable, around 2045, or even 2050, so as to free up commercial space for Leopard 2A8, the KF51 Panther and Leopard 2AX coming soon.

at kmw leopard 2a7 with trophy aps at nato day 2022 4608 x v0 9cxnnjwz5afa1.jpg International technological cooperation Defense | Germany | Defense Analysis
Le Leopard 2A8, and its future successor, the Leopard 2AX, could serve as an interim solution until the arrival of a German replacement at MGCS

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5 Comments

  1. We have absolutely all the technological bricks to make an insane tank: the ascalon in 140 mm, the promethe system which is phew, the fire control which surpasses all the others and finally THE engine which revolutionizes everything at Arquus: the completely hybrid crazy with crazy perfs ………… in short there is more than to release the spiked helmets

  2. Well, I hope Mr. AURAY is right…
    We must accept, despite the Macronist dreams of European industrial federalism, that Germany has once again become hegemonic despite its many internal problems, in particular with infrastructure
    And yet it had been possible, in another time, to cooperate to realize the Transall, the Jaguar, the Milan… other times…
    What we can blame the President for is not having perceived the cardinal constraints linked to the passage of time, a constant factor.
    France is therefore in a hurry
    And urgent solutions must be found.
    The Chinese play GO, not Chess…Nuclear power is no longer an answer to all strategic impasses

    • We can reproach Macron for anything and everything, but in any case nothing about military management since he has been there.
      He tried to fix the Germans and the French (a losing battle), he put back on track an LPM worthy of the name which he respected and recently with his minister, they made all the right decisions that he there is to take (see the excellent articles on the sites on this subject) on many subjects of cooperation or emergency such as rafale F5
      And I repeat, we have all the bricks to build the best tank in the world: we just lack the pre-order volume to launch the business (Italy, India Far East)

  3. At least we will have tried to play the partnership.
    I indeed hope that we will have the guts to establish a serious partnership with a major power (India?) or a rich one (Middle East?).
    But we must no longer let ourselves be taken for a ride and waste precious time.

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