In 2017, France and Germany joined forces to launch the Main Ground Combat System (MGCS) program, a groundbreaking initiative aimed at creating a network of interconnected weapons systems, including armored vehicles, robots, and drones, all operating within a combat “cloud.” Leveraging cutting-edge technologies, algorithms, and artificial intelligence, the program’s goal was to infuse automation into every aspect of combat operations while maintaining strict command responsibility, as emphasized by the French Acquisition Agency of Defense (DGA).

The visible face of the MGCS initiative was the development of a Franco-German heavy tank designed to replace the aging Leclerc and Leopard 2 tanks. To realize this vision, Paris and Berlin orchestrated the merger of Nexter and Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW), creating the KNDS brand (KMW + Nexter Defense Systems). However, the complexity of the collaboration took an unexpected turn when the German government introduced a third player, the arms company Rheinmetall, into the mix. This move complicated the originally intended 50/50 distribution of responsibilities between the French and German parties.

Ralf Ketzel, head of the German division of KNDS, expressed concerns about this development, stating, “We are in a difficult situation with MGCS. The KNDS holding company was created when Nexter and KMW merged to unite the German and French defense industries. Our technology partner Rheinmetall joined later, at the request of the federal government. Germany has thus embarked on a love triangle that was not initially foreseen.”

Despite these challenges, in July, French Minister of the Armed Forces Sébastien Lecornu and his German counterpart Boris Pistorius reassured the public that the MGCS project was on track. Lecornu declared, “Neither a new Leclerc nor a new Leopard, the MGCS represents a great technological leap that will be in service until 2070.” He also announced that the French and German general staff would collaborate on a joint specification for the project, marking a significant milestone six years after its launch.

Recent developments have suggested that Paris is open to Italian participation in the MGCS to rebalance the power dynamic with Germany. However, a crucial question remains: does the MGCS necessitate the development of a new-generation battle tank? France appears eager for this, with plans to replace the Leclerc by 2035. This intention was evident during debates on the Military Programming Law 2024-30, where a Senate amendment called for developing a Leclerc Mk3 demonstrator at the minister’s request.

On the other side of the Rhine, the perspective differs significantly. Some industrialists and elected representatives believe that there is no immediate need to finance an expensive new tank, given the existence of the latest evolution of the Leopard 2, the Leopard 2A8. Several countries, including Germany, have already expressed their intention to acquire it.

Citing sources within the German government and industrial circles, the business daily Handelsblatt recently stated that the MGCS project is on the brink of failure due to “differences” between Paris and Berlin that have become insurmountable. A German industry source cited the project’s “imminent failure” as indicative of the challenges in arms cooperation between the two nations.

Susanne Wiegand, CEO of the Renk Group, which supplies the transmission box for the Leopard 2, echoed similar sentiments. She pointed out that since Russia’s attack on Ukraine, many European countries have ordered Leopard 2s from Krauss-Maffei Wegmann for their armed forces, potentially leaving no immediate room for the MGCS.

These sentiments are shared by some figures in German political circles, such as Andreas Schwarz, a deputy and the rapporteur of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) group on the Ministry of Defense’s budget. Schwarz argued that the proven track record of the Leopard 2 should lead to further development with additional funding, thus avoiding complications, saving time, and ensuring a clear understanding of the capabilities at hand. He said, “With the Leopard 2, we know what we have.”

As the German government prepares to seek funds from the Bundestag to finance the MGCS, it is clear that passionate debates lie ahead. The future of this ambitious Franco-German collaboration hangs in the balance, with the fate of the MGCS at stake.