Rheinmetall used the start of Eurosatory 2024 to pitch a new Concept Unmanned Turret for its Panther KF51 main battle tank. (Ashley Roque/ Breaking Defense)

EUROSATORY 2024 — If Europe’s future Main Ground Combat System drags out too long, Germany’s Rheinmetall is pitching a nearer-term option dubbed the “Concept Unmanned Turret” (CUT) for its Panther KF51 main battle tank.

“The experiences from recent crises and wars, in addition to the obvious postponement of the main Ground Combat System Program [MGCS], creates the necessity to set up an additional medium-term solution,” Bjoern Bernhard, Managing Director of Rheinmetall Landsysteme, said today at the unveiling here at Eurosatory in Paris.

We see that the MGCS is not getting ahead like it was thought to be,” he later told reporters. “So, I can tell you right in the beginning, the MGCS was thought to be introduced in 2035 and with a small look on the calendar, I can tell you that is only 10 years to go for an extremely complex system.”

When the turret and Panther chassis are combined, the vehicle tips the scales around the mid 50-tons range and requires three soldiers to operate. But to better protect the crew from top-down attacks like those prevalent in Ukraine, the soldiers are inside the chassis and not physically hands-on with the turret.

As for turret features, it can be outfitted with a 130mm future gun system or the company’s 120mm smoothbore cannon and includes a 25-round autoloader, Rheinmetall says.

Soldiers inside will also have access to a .50 caliber coaxial machine gun, “fully digital” target engagement system and a 360-degree multi-sensor package. Rheinmetall also included the Hensoldt Muss 2.0 soft-kill active protection system for the new turret and Elbit’s Iron Fist APS as the kinetic solution. 

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Today, Bernhard said the CUT is still in the “early” side of development, but if a customer is interested and ready to invest, the company could have it ready for the field in the early 2030s. 

Rheinmetall’s announcement comes as questions linger about the health of the MGCS program. The Franco-German project was first launched in 2017 to develop a commonly designed next-generation European main battle tank to succeed French Army Leclerc and German Leopard 2 vehicles, with entry of service originally planned for 2035. Sébastien Lecornu, France’s defense minister, has since suggested between 2040-2045 stands as a more realistic timetable.

In April, France and Germany signed the “phase 1a” MGCS agreement, following protracted political discussions, opening the way for industry to officially get started on the development phase of the program. The future tank is expected to be integrated with state-of-the-art technologies, ranging from new fires and artificial intelligence to advanced electronic warfare capabilities.

Shortly after the 1a announcement, Rheinmetall Landsysteme, KNDS Deutschland, KNDS France and Thales moved out with plans to develop a four-party MGCS joint venture, with a firm contract to be implemented next year. The new industry consortium is also committed to a 50/50 Franco-German workshare split.

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At a more general level, the MGCS industrial plan revolves around eight pillars: platform, traditional firepower, innovative firepower, connectivity, sensors, simulation, protection and infrastructures.

Meanwhile, last week, the Franco-German KNDS (a joint venture between Germany’s Krauss-Maffei Wegmann and France’s Nexter) unveiled two new main battle tank concepts, based on Leopard 2 and Leclerc vehicles.

A Leopard 2 A-RC 3.0 tank, complete with an unmanned, remote-controlled turret was showcased and displayed, also here at Eurosatory, alongside the Leclerc Evolution vehicle, fitted with a manned turret and integrated with a 120mm Ascalon gun.

KNDS specifically referred to the Leopard 2 A-RC 3.0 platform also as a “bridge solution” to the MGCS tank and considered it a “decisive technological precursor” to the multinational program. The manufacturer is also pitching the Ascalon gun as the best fit for a MGCS main gun. An Ascalon main battle tank firing campaign is expected to take place next year, while live fire testing of 120mm and 140mm barrels took place successfully last month.