The deal announced by German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius to acquire the replacement for the 18 Leopard 2 A6 main combat tanks handed over to Ukraine is taking shape. The Bundeswehr is expected to get totally new combat tanks from the company Krauss-Maffei Wegmann GmbH & Co (KMW) for the first time since 1992 when the last German battle tank was built.
According to information from Europaische Sicherheit & Technik [ESUT], the 18 Leopard 2A6s ceded by the Bundeswehr to the Ukrainian army should be replaced by the same number of Leopard 2A8s [and not Leopard 2A7+ as previously reported] via a framework agreement containing “options for the delivery of a three-digit number of the same type of combat tanks.”
This Leopard 2A8 will be developed from the Leopard 2A7HU, 44 of which Hungary ordered in 2018. It will have a new engine and active protection features.
Leopard 2A8 will be equipped with Trophy APS, and the delivery of 18 units is expected to begin by 2025. In November 2021, Frontier India reported, “Together with the Israeli manufacturer Rafael, KMW has adapted the TROPHY system to the LEOPARD 2A7 and tested it with the BAAINBw and the German user.” We also reported, “In the future, the German Army is expected to field about 400 Leopard Tanks.”
Earlier, it was reported that the Bundeswehr would receive a lower two-digit number of new Leopard 2 A7Vs. Strack-Zimmermann states negotiations with the Munich tank builder Krauss-Maffei Wegmann are advanced. “We’re just ordering a new Leopard 2. That’s the A7, the latest model,” Merkur quoted the FDP politician. But production takes time. Strack-Zimmermann expects about two years.
“If we supply these ( Leos, ed .), it cannot be ruled out that significantly more will be ordered,” explained the FDP politician, who heads the defence committee in the German Bundestag. With regard to the German armaments industry, she said: “You now know that there are orders. And you can expect more to follow.”
The order for Leopard 2A8 also means that the Rheinmetall 50-ton KF51 Panther tank may replace Leopard 2 tanks.
End of MGCS?
While international armament cooperation should reduce costs and strengthen the friendship between the allies, France and Germany are at loggerheads over joint projects, including the Main Ground Combat System (MGCS) Tank program.
As a reminder, the so-called SADS Part 1 architecture phase, initiated in 2020, is where this project, managed by Germany, is stuck. Conflicts over technological decisions and the division of labour among the involved firms are to blame for this. In addition, the German side’s imposition of the Rheinmetall group into this programme threw the balance off because Nexter and Krauss-Maffei Wegmann’s joint venture, KDNS, was previously expected to play a dominant role.
The main gun and turret are at the centre of the argument. Technically speaking, it is the key part of the tank because all the electronics are attached to the turret and cannon. Electronics are largely absent from the drive, armour, and hull.
In July 2020, Rheinmetall unveiled its prototype. The 130mm/L51 cannon that was previously displayed was mounted in the turret. The turret will be fitted with an automatic loader, unlike the Leopard 2. There is no other method to isolate the crew from the exposed turret and explosive armament. An autoloader is a fundamental necessity for the operation of a drone or robot.
However, the French partner Nexter clarified that it would not leave Rheinmetall without a fight. Nexter came out with a huge 140mm gun and put it on a Leclerc tank. The French idea is called “Ascalon” (Autoloaded and Scalable OutperformingguN) and is much more ambitious than the German plan. The Rheinmetall gun follows the well-known line from the Leopard 2 except for the loader. It is only one size bigger than the Rh-120 L44 120mm gun. On the other hand, Ascalon is a new type of gun.
The French gun uses telescopic ammo to limit the length of ammunition in the tank while allowing for a long missile. This means the propellant charge surrounds the projectile rather than behind it. The ammunition’s mass remains constant but can be made much more compact. The extension of Nexter to 140mm allows for the employment of smart ammunition. Guided missiles that can detect their target and adjust course on their own. Longer and longer ranges make sense because they don’t have to follow the ballistic trajectory, and the tank can remain camouflaged when firing. Ascalon considerably boosts the shell’s kinetic energy through the telescopic ammo without raising the barrel’s demanding internal pressure. Furthermore, the weapon’s reduced recoil should allow it to be mounted on tanks weighing less than 50 tonnes. The problem of overweight western main battle tanks can therefore be resolved.
According to the German version of the magazine Capital, a confidential assessment submitted to the Bundestag’s Budget Committee [lower house of the German Parliament] would conclude that the goal of completing the MGCS by 2035 “is no longer realistic.” And to claim that “previously contentious issues” could “still not be resolved,” particularly in four of the eight critical “technical areas,” beginning with future tank weaponry.
This article echoes recent sentiments by German industrial sources and is reflected by the economic monthly “Wirtschaft Woche.” Thus, creating a new tank is not a priority for them as the Leopard 2A7+ currently receives orders and can evolve.
The Leopard 2 will most likely remain a popular choice for some time, according to Susanne Wiegand, CEO of the Renk group, which manufactures specific components for the German tank. However, this would not preclude the continuance of the MGCS programme, as the combat tank would just be one of several “systems.”
The expected order for Leopard 2A8 is another unsettling indicator for the future of this Franco-German tank.