For several years, France and Germany have been working on a new tank to replace the French Lecrerc and the German Leopard, in their different versions, which, in the latter case, would clearly affect the high number of European countries that have this type of tank in their armed forces, including Spain.
In fact, the strategic document that talks about the future Spanish tank talks about an improvement of the current units in the short term until they become Leopard 2E Plus, but it would be a temporary solution that should serve as a bridge between the current and the future European “Main Ground Combat System (MGCS)”that is, the Franco-German tank to which we were referring and whose first units were scheduled to enter service in 2035, although the project could be delayed to 2045, given the slow progress with which it is progressing.
But, what if that slowness slowed down so much that the project was not carried out? Currently the project is stuck in the architecture, in the SADS study phase, for almost three years. This blockade was due in large part to the entry of the German manufacturer Rheinmetall into this project when it should have been led by KNDS, the joint venture created by the French Nexter and the German Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW), two of the main European suppliers. of military ground systems for many armies around the world, operating jointly since 2015, with production lines in France and Germany and industry associations around the world.
This key choice in the face of disagreements on the division of tasks between France and Germany (which should be 50%), as well as on some technological solutions, particularly at the level of the weapon to equip the future tank, although it is true that Rheinmetall It is the manufacturer of the cannons of a good part of the world’s cars.
This delay is beginning to seriously worry the French government, as Defense Minister Sebastien Lecorneau told deputies this week. “The Army will need a new tank to replace its Leclercs by 2035 or even 2040,” he said in a statement.
On the German side, however, the idea is beginning to emerge that the design of this “tank of the future” will eventually be postponed or even abandoned. This is the opinion of Susanne Wiegand, CEO of the Renk Group, which supplies the gearbox for the Leopard 2 tank. “After the Russian attack on Ukraine, many European countries ordered Leopard 2 tanks from Krauss-Maffei Wegmann for their armed forces. , to the point that there may not be a place for the MGCS at the moment. It will be necessary to assess politically what this new development means for the continuation of MGCS,” she said.
However, all is not lost yet. As the German Defense Ministry recently told manufacturers participating in this first phase of the European main battle tank, the MGCS is “crucially important for our industry” as many European countries intended to replace their main battle tanks between 2035 and 2040. According to open data, the European market is estimated at 100,000 million euros. In fact, the lack of a replacement for the Leopard is leading other countries to choose non-European models, such as Poland, which has decided to equip its ground forces with South Korean K-2PL Panther tanks and American M1A2 Abrams. Romania plans to do the same.
In any case, the manufacturers of the Leopard believe that this tank will continue to be the product of choice for most of the European armed forces for some time, among other things because it is “available”, that is, it is a reality and not a project, and because “technically it can be improved even more”. Even with improvements to defense systems and digital networks, it will still be much cheaper per unit than a newly developed tank. In addition, other projects have been developed on the German side, such as the KF-51 Panther, from Rheinmetall. As well as that of the KNDS E-BMT.
However, it must not be forgotten that the MGCS project aspires to something more than just being a battle tank, since its objective is to become a system that connects different weapon systems, such as ground robots or even drones, in a network. The tank is just one figure in a larger program.
“Things such as autonomous escort vehicles and, above all, computer applications related to the use of the cloud and artificial intelligence are the most decisive,” explains the main analyst of the German economic weekly. Wirtschaft Woche. And “they will have to be developed in any case, either for Leopard or its successor,” the review said.
And what is the Main GroundCombat System (MGCS)?
The Main Ground Combat System (MGCS) is a joint project between Germany and France to develop a new battle tank that will replace the current armored vehicles of both countries.. This project is part of the European defense initiative and is expected to become the main armored vehicle of the continent in the future.
The MGCS is being developed, as already mentioned, in cooperation with the German company Rheinmetall and the French company Nexter Systems. The main goal of the project is to create a main battle tank that can operate in any terrain, including urban, desert, forest and mountain environments, and has the ability to conduct both offensive and defensive combat operations.
One of the main characteristics of the MGCS is its ability to network with other combat systems, including drones, aircraft, and unmanned ground vehicles. This will be achieved by integrating advanced sensor and communications technology into the vehicle, allowing the crew full situational awareness in real time.
Another outstanding feature of the MGCS is its mobility. The vehicle will feature a powerful engine and an advanced suspension system that will allow it to move at high speed on rough terrain. In addition, the crew will have greater visibility of the battlefield thanks to a 360-degree camera system and screens inside the vehicle. The barge seems to be an improved version of the Leopard 2A7, also very similar to the KF51 Panther, while the turret is reminiscent of the Leclerc and the K2 Panther, with a fairly low profile.
It is studied to incorporate a hybrid propulsion system and the hull of the main vehicle can also be used as a base for variants of support vehicles. For example, the German Ministry of Defense has released a (purely theoretical) graphic showing three vehicles based on the same hull, but mounting different effectors: a crewed command and control vehicle (C2) with the large-calibre main gun ; a manned vehicle with a turret-mounted launcher for hypersonic guided projectiles; and an unmanned support vehicle with a high-energy laser, a counter-UAV (C-UAV) system, sensors, and several UAVs on board.
Armament-wise, it will feature a large-calibre main gun with significantly improved performance compared to the 120mm guns used on the Leclerc and Leopard 2. Nexter proposes the new Ascalon as the main weapon. According to Nexter, the weapon will also accommodate future smart tank munitions capable of engaging targets at beyond line-of-sight/non-line-of-sight (BLOS/NLOS) ranges. The firm predicts that the technical solutions on which ASCALON relies will be fully mature by 2025. KNDS ARGE partner Rheinmetall, for its part, advocates its Rh-130 L/52 130mm autoloaded smoothbore gunwhich also promises a significant improvement in rate of fire, range, and penetration over current artillery.
would incorporate a machine gun system and an anti-tank missile launcher. In addition, options for the integration of laser and electronic systems are being explored to further increase the firepower of the vehicle.. It would have a weight of between 60 and 62 tons and would incorporate an MTU 883 engine, with a power of 1,500 hp. The powerplant is slightly smaller than that of the Leopard 2, allowing more space for the crew on the barge.
Sensor fusion within and beyond the individual vehicle will be critical to establishing tactical dominance on the battlefield. Each MGCS team will not only be networked with its immediate component units, but will also be integrated into the battlefield via a data cloud. This will allow it to access a wide variety of distributed external sensors to create a high level of situational awareness and obtain guidance data for BLOS/NLOS targets.
Regarding protection, the MGCS will feature advanced armor that will be able to withstand attacks from modern anti-tank weapons. It is also expected to have active protection systems, such as the Israeli Trophy system.which fires bursts of shrapnel to destroy the shells before they reach the vehicle.
The MGCS project It is currently in its design and development phase. The initial goal was for the vehicle to be operational around 2035, but the latest information says that it could be delayed until at least 2045. The war in Ukraine and the development of the most advanced versions of the Leopard itself to the 2A7 model have led to the Government of Germany, the main country involved along with France, to postpone the arrival of the MGCS for another 10 years. The only advantage of this postponement is that new solutions and technologies could be incorporated, making this new battle tank a much more modern and revolutionary vehicle than initially expected. It could include the possibility of working jointly in “swarm mode” with other vehicles, converting, if necessary, into an autonomous guided car with the help of Artificial Intelligence…
Another of the assets that is on the table is the possibility of that other countries join the project, as is the case of Italy, which would have already shown its predispositionsince it is also looking for a replacement for its main battle tank, the Ariete, for around 2035, a date that would coincide with the date originally planned for the arrival of the MGCS… if it finally goes ahead.
On an industrial level, Italy’s entry into the project with units Leonardo and Iveco-OTO Melara (known as CIO, a joint venture between Leonardo and Iveco Defense Vehicles) would benefit from decades of experience in developing ground vehicles. In second place, further strengthens the European character of the project by adding Italy as another political and industrial contributor. This would further spread development costs and help Europe develop its own future-oriented ground warfare capabilities, finding common political and industrial ground.
And Spain? Well, for now, beyond the mention made of the MGCS as a substitute for the Leopardo 2E, little else is known about its possible interest in participating in the project.. Among its shorter-term plans, there is no budget or documentation that suggests that our country wants to become part of the project, although logic should lead one to think that Spain should not be left out of a project of this magnitude, especially taking into account account of its dependence on foreign technology. The difference is that they become a mere buyer of a closed product or, if they join, they can be part of the development and also adapt it to their needs, in addition to the importance that participating in an initiative of this magnitude would have for the Spanish industry.