Tank Drama Explodes as EU’s MARTE and FMBTech Turn Up Heat on France & Germany’s MCGS Project

As France and Germany wrestle for control over the next-gen MGCS tank project, the EU stokes tensions by funding rival MARTE and FMBTech initiatives involving dozens of other European nations.

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 June 2023, German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said that France and Germany had restarted the long-stalled Main Ground Combat System (MGCS) project, which is expected to create a future battle tank. 

The same year, the German economic daily Handelsblatt stirred up controversy by asserting that Germany would seek European funding through the EDF (European Defense Fund) to develop a new battle tank in partnership with Italy, Spain, and Sweden. 

This information caused quite a stir since the MGCS was stalled due to disagreements over certain technological choices.

However, the German Defense Minister, Boris Pistorius, tried to clarify any misunderstandings by explaining that the project Handelsblatt mentioned, FMBT (Future Main Battle Tank), did not involve Berlin but only the German companies. Furthermore, he said that the initiative launched by the European Commission did not obstruct the MGCS. The two complement each other, he told the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

However, the Italian magazine RID (Rivista Italiana Difesa) wrote that the European initiative was significant strategically as it highlighted the increasing difficulties of the Franco-German axis in the military field, especially since it involved developing a Leopard 2AX and the German company Rheinmetall was trying to promote its new KF-51 “Panther” battle tank.

Since then, the MGCS blockages have apparently been resolved, except for the tank’s main gun, and other issues remain unresolved. In April, France and Germany signed a memorandum of understanding on the industrial organization of the program, based on eight “pillars” and a joint venture bringing together KNDS France (formerly Nexter), KNDS Germany (formerly Krauss-Maffei Wegmann), Rheinmetall, and Thales.

In this context, on May 16, the European Commission unveiled a list of 54 “ambitious” defense industrial projects, allocating over one billion euros. Among these, two concern battle tanks.

Not only is European support far too limited to ensure the development of a supposed competitor, but Europe did even better by splitting the financial line to distribute it almost equally. Each will receive about €20 million from the EDF to conduct studies and design work.

The coordination of the MARTE (Main Armored Tank of Europe) project was entrusted to the German consortium “MARTE ARGE GbR,” whose composition is not yet known. It includes Germany, Italy, Sweden, Estonia, Lithuania, Spain, Belgium, Norway, Greece, Romania, Finland, and the Netherlands.

The leading land defense manufacturers from these countries include Germany’s Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KNDS Deutschland), Rheinmetall (with five subsidiaries), Renk and Hensoldt. Belgium’s John Cockerill Defense and FN Herstal, Sweden’s Saab and BAE Bofors, Finland’s Patria, and Italy’s Leonardo and Iveco are also part of the project.

The MARTE project, lasting 24 months, will “study and design a new battle tank platform to meet current requirements and future threats and needs, integrating innovative and disruptive technologies. It will further examine the use of these technologies to improve existing battle tanks, if applicable. The project aims to offer superior protection, detection, and firepower capabilities while improving cost-effectiveness and lifecycle compared to existing solutions,” explains the European Commission.

While France is absent from the MARTE project, it is very much involved in the “FMBTech” project, as it has been chosen to coordinate it. Specifically, Thales will lead the work. Belgium, Germany (with Scertas GmbH), Finland, Norway, Italy, Greece, and Spain will also be represented, as well as Slovenia, Slovakia, Poland, Ireland, the Czech Republic, and Cyprus.

Among the involved industries are KNDS France, Arquus (soon to be acquired by John Cockerill Defense), MBDA, Safran, and the French subsidiary of the German group Hensoldt.

The difference between MARTE and FMBTech seems thin. The former focuses more on the platform, while the latter focuses on technological components. Both contribute to the same effort of improving the operational performance of current and future tank fleets.

Ironically, the envelopes are separated by just over €100,000. Admittedly, in favor of the German project, but for a budget line to be divided among 47 companies. Not enough to seriously threaten the MGCS program for which the French side plans to inject €500 million by 2030 and the German side more than €250 million by 2027.

According to the European Commission, the FMBTech project, which also has a budget of 20 million euros, is likely the closest to the MGCS. It defines and specifies the best innovative battle tank system architecture technologies.

Specifically, it “aims to enable existing and future European battle tanks to reach the highest operational level for future ground combat scenarios. The battle tank will be at the center of digitized capabilities,” continues the European Commission, mentioning the ability to interact with robotic systems and the now-essential artificial intelligence.

MGCS should benefit at least a portion from the outcomes of these efforts. Countries that have long been intrigued by the Franco-German tank program are represented in both MARTE and FMBTech industries. Twelve are Italian, seven are Spanish, and three are Polish, of the seventy entities that are involved. 


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


More Articles Like This