The first step to MGCS. Germany and France will define the shape of the new tank

Leopard 2A7V is the latest modification of the existing tank. Photo by KMW

Since 2015, France and Germany have been working to create a promising main tank, capable of replacing existing combat vehicles in the future. The joint program MGCS (Main Combat Ground System) so far provided only preliminary research, and now it is moving to a new stage. Based on its results, the final appearance of the future MBT for the two countries will be determined.

Architecture research

To date, Germany and France have managed to sign a number of agreements defining various aspects of the promising program. The last such document appeared in December last year. It provided for the formation of a working group ARGE (Arbeitsgemeinschaft), which included the German companies Krauss-Maffei Wegmann and Rheinmetall AG, as well as the French Nexter Defense Systems. KMW and Nexter participate in the works as a single structure – KNDS.

On May 20, the Rheinmetall press service announced the start of a new stage of the program. Previously, ARGE members agreed to soon launch the System Architecture Definition Study – Part 1 or SADS Part 1. Now they are starting the corresponding work. It is noted that this gives a start to the “demo” stage of the MGCS program.

The first step to MGCS.  Germany and France will define the shape of the new tank
Early MGCS concept from KNDS

The purpose of SADS P.1 is to study the proposed concepts and options for the appearance of the MGCS combat vehicle with the subsequent development of recommendations and requirements. It is planned to study the current and future needs of the armies of Germany and France, the economic aspects of the project, etc. The formation of the final appearance of the MBT will take place at the next stages of the program.

Research on SADS P.1 will be carried out by the two countries, for which a joint venture will be established. Jobs in this organization will be divided equally between the two states. The costs of 150 million euros will also be divided in half. All work will take 18 months. Thus, in the fall of 2021, KNDS and Rheinmetall will be ready for the next phase of MGCS work.

Plans for 20 years

Earlier, in March of this year, the German press published interesting information about the plans of the Bundestag Defense Committee regarding the MGCS program. These plans are scheduled 15 years ahead and include all stages of research and development, starting with the current SADS P.1.

The first part of the SADS study, which is being launched, will last until the fall of next year, after which its second phase will begin. By 2024, based on the research conducted, the final appearance of the promising MBT will be determined. Also during this period, the “technology demonstration phase” Technologiedemonstrationsphase (TDP) will begin. In the course of this R&D, various components will be tested for installation on tanks.

Nexter offer

For 2024-27 planned “phase of full demonstration” Gesamtsystemdemonstratorphase (GSDP) – the construction and testing of experimental units and tanks in general. During the GSDP, they will check and fine-tune the entire promising complex, the result of which will be the formation of the final glare of the future serial armored vehicles.

In 2028, they plan to start assembling pre-production equipment. It will undergo full-scale field and military tests, during which it will have to confirm the characteristics and show the possibility of operation in the army. Only after this stage will the deployment of a full-fledged series begin.

The transfer of the first serial MGCS to the German armed forces is scheduled for 2035. The next few years will be spent on the production of sufficient quantities of equipment, training of personnel, etc. The first units, equipped with promising tanks, will reach initial operational readiness only by 2040.

Budget expenditures

The German Defense Committee has already calculated the approximate costs of the MGCS. For all R&D from 2020 to 2028 the participating countries have to spend about 1.5 billion euros. The costs will be divided in half – about 750 million per country. The planned costs for different stages of the program have also been announced.

Variant of the MGCS tank from Rheinmetall AG

For the first studies in 2020-22. Germany will spend approx. 175 million euros. Some of these costs are already included in the military budget, but the committee plans to request an additional 56 million. The next stages of the program, TDP, GSDP, construction and testing of pre-production equipment will require more than 500 million euros per country.

Future costs for the purchase of serial equipment have not yet been determined. This aspect of the program will be worked out later, after the end of two stages of SADS, when the approximate cost of the finished tank becomes known. In addition, France and Germany are not yet able to name the required number of new tanks. The same, for obvious reasons, applies to potential foreign customers.

The face of the coming

The final version of the tactical and technical requirements for MBT MGCS has not yet been determined, it will be formed based on the results of current research. At the same time, the most common wishes of the customer in the person of the armies of the two countries are known. The “European tank” of the future should have significant advantages over existing equipment and compete on equal terms with the Russian T-14. It is curious that it was the “Armata”, which in all respects outstripped modern tanks, was named the main reason for the launch of the French-German project.

Customers in the face of the armies of Germany and France want to get MBT with improved protection, enhanced armament and more advanced fire control means. It is also necessary to ensure the possibility of full-fledged work in network-centric command and control systems. This implies maximum mechanization and automation of the main processes.

Rheinmetall is also promoting its 130mm tank gun.

Despite the lack of clear TTT, the members of the ARGE working group have repeatedly shown certain materials and disclosed general considerations regarding the appearance of promising MBTs. At various times, at the level of general research, the possibility of a deep modernization of existing samples or the development of new ones, distinguished by the most daring innovations, was considered.

As part of preliminary research in the interests of MGCS, the possibility of a deep modernization of the Leopard 2 MBT with the use of various promising components was studied. In particular, the issues of replacing the 120-mm cannon with a larger caliber one were studied. However, the relatively old basic platform severely limits the prospects for such a sample.

In 2018, KNDS presented a tank made by combining the Leopard 2 chassis and the Leclerc turret. This product had some advantages over the two basic tanks, but it was the purest experiment. Such a pilot project clearly showed the ability of the two countries to cooperate in the field of armored vehicles, but nothing more.

A variant of the fighting compartment from Rheinmetall

Companies participating in the program also offer various preliminary concept projects. Schemes and three-dimensional images of tanks of traditional and front-engined configuration with a manned and automated turret and various weapon options have been repeatedly published. Apparently, it is these ideas that will form the basis of a real MGCS project. Which of them are worthy of attention and will be used on a real tank – will be determined during the current research work SADS P.1.

Tank of the distant future

According to current plans, pre-production MGCS main tanks will leave the assembly shop in 2028, and a full series will begin only in the mid-thirties. Only at the turn of the forties, the German Bundeswehr and the French army will be able to create sufficiently numerous and combat-ready groupings of the latest technology of joint development. By this time, it will be 60 years since the beginning of the service of “Leopard 2”, and “Leclerc” will be preparing for the half-century anniversary.

According to the current work schedule, it will take about 20 years from the start of MGCS R&D to the achievement of operational readiness. The rearmament of the two armies has been postponed for a long time, but the ARGE working group gets a solid margin of time to carry out all the work and create a full-fledged tank, devoid of flaws and shortcomings.

A two-decade journey has already begun with the first step in the form of SADS Part 1. Three companies from two countries are launching the first phase of research aimed directly at the creation of MGCS. It will be followed by others, which will eventually lead to the emergence of a completely new “European tank”. Unless, of course, countries decide to make their own tanks and stop cooperating – as has happened in the past.

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