A Leopard Main Battle Tank of the Bundeswehr Panzerlehrbrigade 9 (9th Armoured Demonstration Brigade) during a presentation of capabilities by the unit (Getty Images)

BELFAST — A group of four major European defense firms say they plan on teaming up to establish a “joint project company” to design and manufacture the French and German next-generation Main Ground Combat System (MGCS).

KNDS Deutschland, KNDS France, Rheinmetall Landsysteme and Thales will “soon begin negotiations“ so the joint venture can be established and a “contract” can be implemented from 2025, said KNDS in a press release today.

The move comes just days after French and German officials signed the “phase 1a” agreement to begin development of MGCS, a platform set to replace the Leclerc and Leopard main battle tanks and one the defense ministers from Paris and Berlin desribed as something “competely new.”

Welcoming the bilateral political agreement, the four defense contractors said they see the move “as an essential milestone in the development of a superior ground combat system for the armed forces of the future.” They said the new company will “meet the challenges of such a complex multi-platform system in the best possible and synergetic way.”

The future company will commit to a 50/50 workshare split between French and German manufacturers, supported by an “innovative ‘level-pillar approach,’” added KNDS. At the signing of the MGCS phase 1a contract, German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius shared details of the MGCS industrial plan, broken down into eight pillars: platform, traditional firepower, innovative firepower, connectivity, sensors, simulation, protection and infrastructures.

The new joint venture will mark a marriage of some of the largest defense firms in France and Germany. France’s Nexter Systems, which makes Leclerc platforms, and Germany’s Krauss-Maffei-Wegmann, maker of the Leopard, merged in 2015 to form KNDS. Germany’s Rheinmetall is one of Europe’s largest armored tracked vehicles manufacturers, ranging from the KF51 Panther, to the Lynx IFV and the AEV3 Kodiak.

The French and German governments have also learned from the mistake of their SCAF next generation future fighter program, where they made workshare decisions before consulting with air forces. This time around, “a lot of work has gone into ensuring that the needs of both our armies were taken into account first,” added Pistorius, before engaging industry.

In the meantime, France is currently concentrating on a Leclerc XLR upgrade program, launched in 2015. That program involves older tanks being fitted with 7.62mm remotely operated turrets, integration of a new Scorpion combat information system (SICS), greater armor protection against mines and rockets and development of a new fire control system, according to KNDS Nexter company literature. The upgrade is expected to see 200 of the 60-ton tanks from the French Army upgraded by 2029.

On the German side, MGCS’s proposed development schedule is “increasingly seen as inopportune” because it clashes with a highly successful Leopard 2A8 sales campaign, amounting to 400 vehicles, said the French Institute of International Relations in a 2023 report [PDF].

But for now senior military officials and defense industry behemoths are lauding the MGCS’s first steps. The future tank is expected to enter service between 2040 and 2045.