German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius says that France and Germany want the Main Ground Combat System (MGCS) project to succeed despite dire predictions and speculations. He said close coordination is a daily occurrence, even in critical matters. On July 10, Pistorius welcomed his French counterpart Sébastien Lecornu to Berlin for a working visit. The discussion centred on the next steps for the MGCS combined armaments programme.
The MGCS is meant to be an entirely new combat system. It is not meant to be a Leopard or Leclerc tanks successor. Consequently, MGCS will in no way be the Rheinmetall KF-51 tank. Therefore, it is unlikely that the KF-51 will be incorporated into the German Army’s arsenal. Lecornu said that the tank coming from the factory will be nothing like today’s tanks.
The MGCS is anticipated to be highly automated and outfitted with unmanned ground and aerial systems. The MGCS personnel will use third-party computing services via a secure network – the “military internet”), so cloud-based solutions will play a significant role. Through a satellite network – military Starlink, the MGCS personnel can access the services of military supercomputers at a remote base. This technology is crucial for future land, air, and naval combat platforms.
Combat vehicles can use the cloud to share data with other units and commanders quickly and securely. This includes exchanging information regarding positions, battlefield conditions, objectives, and other tactical details.
Cloud computing provides the computing capacity and resources necessary for advanced data analysis and the application of artificial intelligence. Combat vehicles can capture data in real-time from various sensors and devices and send it to the cloud for analysis. This enables the detection of patterns, identification of threats, and automated decision-making based on the information.
MGCS can be outfitted with various sensors, such as electronic reconnaissance capabilities, that do not have to be costly and complex. Current tanks cannot process such a vast array of information, and tank operators lack the cognitive capacity and time to do so during combat operations. In a cloud environment, however, all of this information can be processed remotely and returned to the personnel in an easily readable and visually appealing format.
In addition, software and firmware updates are simple to implement. New features, problem fixes, and security updates can be centrally deployed and distributed to vehicles through the cloud infrastructure. This simplifies the administration and maintenance of combat vehicles and enables rapid responses to new demands and threats, such as enemy electronic and cyber warfare system capabilities.
The cloud can be used to simulate combat scenarios and educate crews. Connecting vehicles to cloud-based simulators and training environments enables realistic training and practice in various situations. This increases crew readiness and facilitates the trial of new strategies and tactics.
FCAS (Future Combat Air System), a joint project between France and Germany to build a sixth-generation fighter, should help MGCS. France is in charge of FCAS, and Germany oversees MGCS. Spain has already joined FCAS, so other countries can join both programmes.
According to the German Ministry of Defence, both Franco-German initiatives strengthen European military capabilities, provide vital expertise, and demonstrate the viability of European defence projects.
The two countries had been in the diplomatic phase of the MGCS programme but are now entering the operational phase, the German Minister told his French counterpart, who, like Pistorius, was highly pleased with the outcome of the negotiations. Through regular meetings, both ministers will ensure political oversight of both programmes.
The next meeting will be held on September 22 at the French airbase in Evreux, where the commanders of both countries’ ground forces will present their joint requirements for MGCS.
Next, a High-Level Common Operational Requirements Document (HLCORD) will be developed. This document will outline the essential operational necessities. The expected approval date is by the close of the year. The FCAS program’s HLCORD was approved in 2018.
Based on these requirements, the development phase will officially commence. Demonstrators, Enhanced Main Battle Tank (EMBT), and visions have been presented thus far. Their primary objective is demonstrating the military industry’s technological level and capabilities to the German and French militaries and legislators. Now, the armies must define their expectations for the MGCS tank, which will remain in service until 2070. Both ministers emphasise that the military, not industry interests, should define requirements.
Both ministers affirmed that the first MGCS will be introduced into service in 2035. However, the MGCS’s armament has yet to be determined. Rheinmetall offers its 130mm cannon, while Nexter (or KNDS) offers its 140mm ASCALON cannon.
The German Minister of Defence believes that parallel development of both designs is feasible using a common hull and turret. Ultimately, one solution will be chosen. Alternatively, two variants of the MGCS could emerge: one with a 140mm cannon and the other with a 130mm cannon. Naturally, from a commercial standpoint, it is less critical who will produce the cannon and, more important, who will produce the respective tank ammunition. This factor entails tens of billions of euros.
In any case, the French and German versions of MGCS will differ. This applies to communication means and command and control systems, for example. The French MGCS will be integrated into the developing SCORPION network via the SICS (Systeme d’information du combat Scorpion) and the Contact digital radio. The German MGCS, on the other hand, will employ the D-LBO (Digitisation of Land-Based Operations) digital command and control system.
The two countries appear upbeat during the press conference but are uncertain about the project’s progress. While France is contemplating moving forward with the Leclerc Mk3 demonstrator, Germany intends to place a large order for Leopard 2A8 tanks, which could reduce the future demand for MGCS.