TechEuropean MGCS tank project: The future of combat vehicles

European MGCS tank project: The future of combat vehicles

The MGCS program encounters delays.
The MGCS program encounters delays.
Images source: © Nexter
6:21 PM EST, February 25, 2024

The MGCS (Main Ground Combat System) is a joint French-German venture to construct a new generation tank and, indeed, an entire combat system. In the future, the vehicles developed within this program will replace the French AMX Leclerc tanks and German Leopard 2 tanks.

This ambitious project has been underway since 2015. French-based Nexter and German company KMW formed a joint venture enterprise, initially known as KANT and now called KNDS. Over time, the German side started advocating for including the Rheinmetall Group in the program, which co-manufactures the Leopard 2 alongside KMW. The French were expected to hold responsibility for half of the role, while the German entities would each contribute 25%. Both parties continue to express interest in engaging other companies in the project, such as German Hensoldt or French Thales.

The increasingly "European" nature of MGCS

Time management is crucial for such a substantial program, potentially valued at over 100 billion euros spanning multiple decades. According to the plan set five years ago, the demonstration phase would extend until 2028 and is divided into two stages. The initial stage projected that by 2024, the ultimate architecture of the MGCS system would be outlined, consolidating the demands of the German and French armies with a response to what other vehicles— besides tanks—would be incorporated. In the subsequent stage, scheduled for completion by 2028, the creation of technology demonstrators was planned. The role of these demonstrators would be to assess the relevancy of the chosen requirements.

In 2028, the industrial phase should also commence, encompassing the construction and testing of proper prototypes and preparation for production. The first tanks were scheduled to enter service in 2035, but there are now foreseeable delays.

Technical aspects and challenges

Despite early skepticism, in the past two years, Paris and Berlin have been voicing a relatively aligned stance on the nature of the MGCS. Both sides anticipate a significantly lighter vehicle than the Leclerc XLR (139,000 lbs) or Leopard 2A8 (up to 160,000 lbs). The weight is expected to not exceed 110,000 lbs, which should reduce production and operating costs and simplify vehicle transportation. These may involve trade-offs in terms of vehicle protection, but heavy armor will likely be largely supplemented by active protective measures.

Both parties also demand the development of several auxiliary vehicles, contributing to a comprehensive set of desired combat capabilities. Paris and Berlin require a direct support vehicle and an unmanned vehicle armed with long-range missiles. The platform should be easily adaptable to new functions. Additionally, Germany and France demand enhanced tactical mobility and firepower from the new tank.

The last of these points has led to some debate. The German side allegedly argues for the more traditional Rheinmetall 130mm L/52 gun, while the French endorse the Nexter ASCALON 140mm caliber gun for telescopic ammo.

It comes as no surprise that each side promotes their own solution, especially considering Rheinmetall's dominant position in Europe, which might ironically jeopardize the KNDS project. The company is pushing its modern KF51 Panther tank. Resorting to a heavier gun might entail a decrease in ammo supply. To avoid further delays, the partners need to resolve this armament issue promptly. Other significant aspects for the MGCS system include maintaining situational awareness, a comprehensive communication system, and artificial intelligence that supports the crew housed in a capsule within the hull.

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