Here's What You Need to Know: It remains to be seen what the final Franco-German design will look like.
The Main Ground Combat System, as the tank project is known, is intended to replace the French Leclerc and Leopard 2 main battle tanks. While both tanks are considered capable and combat-effective, they are not getting any younger. The Leclerc made its debut with the French armed forces in the early 1990s, and the Leopard 2, essentially an advanced and redesigned variant of the Leopard 1, much before that, in the late 1970s. Both France and Germany are in need of an upgrade.
European/Enhanced Main Battle Tank
One of the first steps on the road to the MGCS was a technology demonstrator, built by the European defense company KMW+Nexter Defense Systems. Their demonstrator was called the European Main Battle Tank (or alternatively called the Enhanced Main Battle Tank by the French), and it debuted in 2018 at a military trade fair in Paris.
The demonstrator, a one-off design, combined already existing German and French tanks, but mated the turret of the Leclerc with the hull of the German Leopard 2. A neat video of the modern-looking demonstrator can be seen here and is worth the watch.
The rationale behind the French-German hybrid was two-fold. First, it demonstrated the potential of French-German collaboration in defense, which for historical reasons has struggled. The other advantage was to explore the possibilities of using off-the-shelf parts and components to see what was possible. Their design is arguably better than either the Leopard 2 or the Leclerc, and is around 6 tons, or about 12,000 pounds (or nearly 5,500 kilos) lighter.
The Main Ground Combat System will be very powerful—especially the tank’s main gun. One of the MGCS’s conditions stipulates that the end product must have a more powerful main gun than the tanks that France or Germany currently have in service.
While most tanks, including virtually every tank in NATO ally inventories uses a variation of the German firm Rheinmetall’s Rh-120 L/55 120mm gun, the MGCS will use an enlarged 130mm main gun, also designed and manufactured by the German firm. The massive gun weighs about 300 kilograms, or about 660 pounds more than Rheinmetall’s previous 120mm gun. The ammunition is corresponding longer and larger in diameter and is a step up in terms of both penetration potential and range.
It remains to be seen what the final Franco-German design will look like. It should be assumed that it will have an improved armor protection package, and higher mobility. One of the features that can be assumed is the larger 130 millimeter main gun—which may make the EMBT one of the most powerful tanks in the world. Watch this topic closely for new developments.
Caleb Larson holds a Master of Public Policy degree from the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy. He lives in Berlin and writes on U.S. and Russian foreign and defense policy, German politics, and culture.
This article first appeared in June 2020.
Image: A Leopard 2 tank of German army Bundeswehr takes part in an exercise during a media day in Munster, Germany September 28, 2018. REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer