KNDS Leopard 2A8 vs Rheinmetall KF-51 Tank: The Billion-Euro Battle for Italy’s Army

Surprise partnership between Rheinmetall and Leonardo for KF-51 MBT, will Italy buy it?

Must Read

Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

In December 2023, KNDS and Italian defense company Leonardo signed a letter of intent to establish a close partnership in ground defense electronics to create a genuine European defense group. It was proposed that this partnership would facilitate the “implementation of cooperative programs between European nations,” including the Franco-German Main Ground Combat System (MGCS) and the transalpine Armored Infantry Combat System (AICS) initiatives. 

Furthermore, discussions regarding the “joint implementation of the Italian tank acquisition program” were to commence between the German branch of KNDS (formerly Krauss-Maffei Wegmann) and Leonardo. Rome intended to acquire a minimum of 132 Leopard 2A8 tanks and 140 other “derivative” vehicles (engineering, recovery, etc.).

Italy’s main combat tank fleet is mostly made up of Ariete and manufactured domestically. The C1 Ariete tank will remain in service in the Italian Army for the next 15 years. 125 Ariete tanks will be upgraded. The remaining 35 tanks will, therefore, head to the warehouses.

A €8.2-8.5 billion program to modernize the Italian Army’s armored forces was approved by the Italian Parliament in February 2024, which included the acquisition of 132 Leopard 2A8 main battle tanks. Additionally, 140 support vehicles, including recovery tanks, bridge-laying tanks, and engineering vehicles, will be included in the 14-year program spanning from 2024 to 2037. The Leopard 2A8 tanks will be manufactured at the Leonardo facility in La Spezia, Italy, with the extensive use of Italian-made components, including the fire control system, battlefield management system, and active protection system. The Iveco-Oto Melara Consortium (CIO) will also provide electronic systems for the Italian Leopard 2A8IT tanks. This acquisition is perceived as a means of expediting the fulfillment of Italy’s requirements while simultaneously enhancing the competitiveness of Italian small and medium-sized enterprises by establishing a supply chain that prioritizes technological advancement and skill enhancement. The initiative will facilitate Italy’s participation in the MGCS.

Leopard 2A8 Tank
Leopard 2A8 Tank. Image via aroged

But Leonardo had initiated negotiations with Rheinmetall, another significant German land armaments company, prior to the announcement of this collapse. It was evident that the Düsseldorf group was more amenable to the Italian company’s inquiries.

Rheinmetall and Leonardo declared their intention to establish a 50/50 joint venture in Italy on July 3. The project will aid in the creation of a “new battle tank” and a “new Lynx platform for the Italian Army’s AICS program.”

Rheinmetall developed the Lynx, a tracked infantry combat vehicle. It is available in two primary versions: the KF-31 (38 tons) and the KF-41 (44 tons in combat). It has the capacity to accommodate up to 11 infantrymen, including its personnel. It is equipped with a Lance 2.0 turret-mounted 30 or 35-mm cannon, a 7.62 mm coaxial light machine gun, and optional Spike anti-tank missiles.

The KF-51 Panther, described in the statement, was unveiled by Rheinmetall at the 2022 edition of EuroSatory, the land and air armaments exhibition. It is fitted with a 130 mm L/51 cannon. The tank is being developed in collaboration with the Hungarian government, which is providing funding in the amount of 288 million euros.

The Italian Ministry of Defense has not yet indicated that it intends to abandon its initiative to acquire Leopard 2A8 tanks. However, it is possible that this will be the case, given the concessions that Leonardo secured from Rheinmetall.

The objective of the two companies is “to establish standards and pave the way for a new generation of advanced combat vehicles in Europe and for Europe.” Rheinmetall CEO Armin Papperger explained that this is aimed not only at the Italian market but also at “other partner countries that need to modernize their combat systems.”

“The technological and industrial synergies between Leonardo and Rheinmetall offer a unique opportunity to develop advanced battle tanks and infantry vehicles. We see this agreement as a fundamental contribution to creating a European defense space,” said Roberto Cingolani, CEO of the Italian group.

Moreover, Leonardo has not lost sight of the MGCS, in which Rheinmetall participates.

“In the context of the MBT [Main Battle Tank] and AICS programs, the mission systems, electronic suites, and weapon integration will be developed and produced by Leonardo, according to the Italian customer’s requirements. These technologies will also serve as the basis for the development of the future European battle tank [MGCS],” the two companies stated in their joint release.

During EuroSatory 2024, KNDS France, KNDS Deutschland, Rheinmetall Landsysteme, and Thales signed a letter of intent to establish a “project business” dedicated to the development of the MGCS. What potential role Leonardo may assume in this arrangement in the future is yet to be established.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


More Articles Like This