During the ongoing International Armoured Vehicles conference in London, German Colonel Armin Dirks, head of the MGCS project team at the acquisition office of the Bundeswehr BAAINBw (Federal Office of Equipment, Information Technology, and In-Service Support of the Bundeswehr), presented the German vision of the “tank” of the future generation, the MGCS (Main Ground Combat System). According to a German publication, Esut, that cites the Colonel, the MGCS will be a family of closely coordinating vehicles on the same tracked platform rather than a traditional Main Battle Tank (MBT).
As per Colonel Dirks, Germany’s MGCS is centred on “mobility.” The era of cumbersome commonplace “all-in-one” platforms has gone away permanently. This is comparable to the French vision (the other partner). In June 2020, it was reported that the French envisioned that MGCS would be built upon a unified chassis composed of numerous modules. A main battle tank (MBT), a reconnaissance vehicle, and an unmanned support vehicle (essentially a tank destroyer) are depicted in an artist’s impression released. The tank is equipped with a 140mm calibre cannon but of a different type than the L/55 140mm calibre used in the T4 Terminateur demonstrator. The plan includes using telescopic 140mm LITA (Low Impulsion Telescoped Ammunition). In 2020, it was stated that the final MGCS design would be unified by 2024 based on German and French designs.
The justification for this is that weight restrictions prevent the integration of every desired capability, including active protection systems, reconnaissance drones, and directed energy weapons intended to destroy drones, onto a single MGCS platform. Concurrently, there is also a demand for improved crew protection and mobility. Consequently, MGCS will be heavier than the most recent MBTs. The Bundeswehr mandates that forthcoming armoured combat vehicles adhere to a maximum weight restriction of 50 tonnes. Remember that the Rheinmetall-developed Panther KF51, which weighs roughly 59 tonnes, is equipped with most of these systems—excluding directed energy weapons.
Subsequently, Colonel Dirks gave conference attendees a conceptual picture (as given in the featured image above) of a formation of three armoured vehicles on a single-tracked chassis. Every tank weighs less than fifty tonnes and is smaller than an MBT. The first two autonomous vehicles have a non-line-of-sight (NLOS) tank gun or anti-tank missile system that can fire beyond the straight line of sight.
The first two vehicles appear to have viewports, indicating that the Germans would consider using crewed vehicles on an optional basis. These vehicles may transport armoured personnel safely between bases, to the rear, or even directly to the combat with a one or two-person crew. Alternatively, they can use the vehicles for less hazardous duties like deployment against a less sophisticated foe. The team will get out of the tank for the riskiest duties.
The two unmanned combat vehicles previously stated are under the command of the third crewed vehicle, a heavy-armoured carrier. It resembles the US StrykerQB (Quarterback of the Battlefield) wheeled command vehicle concept.
Colonel Dirks reinforced the need for mobility in the “iron triangle,” including protection and weaponry. Engineers always balance these needs when developing an armoured vehicle or tank. Surveillance, detection, recognition, and identification (SDRI); command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence (C4I); and sustainability in warfare are the other three main MGCS domains.
Energy management, fuel use, and lowering the logistical footprint are critical in combating sustainability. The MGCS tank family will thus receive a hybrid power unit that promises significant fuel consumption savings. The SDRI range is intended to exceed the range of onboard weapon systems, which cannot be accomplished without introducing specialist reconnaissance drones.
Dirks even recommends creating ATGMs or cannon ammunition with submunitions that may destroy numerous targets with a single shot to reduce the amount of ammunition carried.
Germany and France began the MGCS project in 2017 to replace the Leopard and Leclerc tanks. MGCS was originally planned to be developed by the KNDS, a joint venture between German KMW and French Nexter Systems. However, in 2019, German Rheinmetall joined the MGCS initiative. Currently, heated debates are taking place between Germany and France about the proportion of home industries and the eventual structure of MGCS.
The relevant technologies will be developed during the TDP (Technology Demonstrations Phase) phase. The developed technologies will be tested using a demonstrator, which will be built between 2024 and 2027. The whole cost of completing the TDP and building the demonstration will be 1.5 billion euros.
Demonstrator testing will conclude in 2028, and prototype production will commence. The BAAINBw and the French arms agency DGA (Direction générale de l’armement) will take over the prototypes to ensure that they meet the standards of both countries’ armed services. If both countries agree, small-scale production will start. The first tanks will inducted by the military in 2035. Realistically, initial operational preparedness is expected around 2040. However, this looks too optimistic due to the squabbling partners.
There are various issues that the finished product will need to address. The Germans wanted a heavier vehicle for European battlefield conditions, while the French chose a lighter vehicle suited for African expeditionary operations. The tank must integrate with the French SCORIPON system (a new technical idea for the French ground forces) and the German D-LBO (Digitalisierung Landbasierte Operationen), both similarly built.
Unofficially, there is also talk of developing two distinct tanks: a more technologically advanced version for Germany and France and a simpler, less expensive variant for sale to countries such as Spain, Britain, and Poland.
Exports outside of Europe have long been a source of dispute between the contracting authorities, as Paris’ export policy is far more flexible than Berlin’s.