Chief of Staff of the Army [CEMAT] in 2018, General Jean-Pierre Bosser said he expected “difficult” cooperation with Germany on the Main Ground Combat System [MGCS], that is to say the Franco-German battle tank of the future. “We must not minimize the difficulties that we are going to encounter on this project,” he said, referring to the doctrinal differences on both sides of the Rhine. In addition, “exchanges will undoubtedly be more complicated” for the “industrial part”, he had prophesied.
Led under German responsibility, the MGCS should not however pose any particular concern at the industrial level given that this project was to be led by KNDS, the joint venture formed by Nexter and Krauss-Maffei Wegmann. Only, Berlin imposed a third actor, namely Rheinemetall, which upset the balance.
And, since then, this program has stalled, in particular because of a dispute between Nexter and Rheinmetall about the main armament of the MGCS. Thus, the French industrialist highlights its 140 mm gun from the ASCALON concept [Autoloaded and SCALable Outperforming guN] while its German competitor believes that its 130 mm L/51 gun, combined with an automatic loader which it describes as “state of the art”, would be the most appropriate.
Anyway, MGCS is currently stuck at SADS Part 1 phase [relative à l’étude d’architecture]which continues to be extended, for lack of agreement on its industrial organization, which must respect a 50-50 division of tasks between the French and the Germans.
“The ball is in the court of German industrialists, particularly in [celui] from Rheinmetall. […] So these German industrialists must find among themselves the conditions for an agreement to divide up the tasks and the work, “said Florence Parly, the former Minister of the Armies, in December 2021.
A few weeks earlier, General Pierre Schill, the current CEMAT, had not ruled out a possible failure of this Franco-German cooperation. “If the MGCS cannot be carried out with Germany, it will be necessary either to consider a Franco-French program, or to rely on the SCORPION community turned towards the Benelux. Anyway, it will lead to the construction of a new tank, “he said.
However, said General Schill during a hearing at the National Assembly on July 20, “in terms of industrial cooperation, in the military field, a Franco-German position is essential to achieve the objective of interoperability between our armies, in NATO or Europe, so as to offer politicians cultural and legal means of action, but also in terms of equipment – at best the same, at least which can communicate”.
Also, continued the CEMAT, “if Germany and France manage to take a step forward, as so often, this will have a ripple effect on the other countries”.
That said, the “planets” still have to align… “My German counterpart intends to invest the share of the 100 billion announced by Chancellor Olaf Scholz which would go to the Army in the areas of connectivity and combat collaborative, in which France has technologies that are both mature and cutting-edge. I underlined the importance, if not of buying our equipment, at least of building an interconnectable whole with France. I hope to be heard,” General Schill first told the deputies.
But when it comes to MGCS, things get more complicated. “We have to align the needs of the two armies. Unfortunately, we are not in the same situation with regard to the emergency. France is launching the last stage of modernization of the Leclerc tank, to enable it to interconnect with the SCORPION bubble, knowing that, from 2035, these tanks will have to be replaced. On the contrary, Germany has the capacity to use an additional generation of the Leopard tank, before the future equipment,” noted General Schill. Also, he continued, “there are issues in this program for both countries and we are therefore trying to make them converge, to align them”.
But this convergence can only happen if Berlin takes a political action…
“On the military and industrial level, the Germans must choose, by a political act, to build this equipment with us”, indeed estimated the CEMAT. Especially since, he said, “we are not in a position of applicant, because we have assets with the elements of connectivity that we could bring into the program”.
Only, if the “political decision must be transformed into an operational decision”, Germany does not have, unlike France, “an organization into an industrial and technological defense base [BITD] placed under the leadership of the General Directorate of Armaments [DGA] “, which makes it “difficult” for Berlin “to have a hold on the industrialists”, explained General Schill.
Still, the clock continues to tick… And beyond the declarations of intent, no solution is in sight for the moment.