LONDON and COLOGNE, Germany – The UK Department of Defense has started talks with France and Germany to enroll as observers for the next generation Main Ground Combat System program, according to government and industry officials in the UK and Germany.
Details of what access the British will get to the program are still unclear as a possible pact will not be signed until later this year. “Great Britain will be granted observer status for the Franco-German” Main Ground Combat System “program,” said a Defense Ministry official in London.
An industry team consisting of Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, Nexter and Rheinmetall is in the early conceptual phases to put together a vehicle design that will replace the German Leopard 2 and the French Leclerc by 2035.
A KMW spokesman told Defense News that the company is aware of ongoing talks aimed at turning the UK into an observer, but referred additional questions to the German Defense Ministry.
For the British, the link is expected to help identify the future capability requirements developed by the Defense Science and Technology Laboratory of the government and others under the Department of Defense’s Future Ground Combat System program.
This program is considering a number of options to replace current skills in the assembled melee arena starting in 2040.
The Franco-German tank isn’t the only program watched by the UK Department of Defense, which continues to oversee a number of global programs and developers, according to British officials.
The German Ministry of Defense was very excited about the UK’s involvement, although a spokeswoman emphasized the international nature of the project.
“The MGCS project was launched with a European approach in which other nations can participate,” the spokeswoman told Defense News. Observer status would precede a more formal role for cooperation with new candidate countries, she added.
“The inclusion of new members in MCGS corresponds to the efforts of Germany to drive the consolidation in the European defense industry”, wrote the spokeswoman in an email.
UK interest in MGCS has all the characteristics of a test case for running large joint programs in a post-Brexit Europe, depending on progress. Military and government leaders on both sides have vowed to keep defense cooperation intact after the arduous divorce proceedings that ended Britain’s membership of the European Union. Still, London is formally an external party in a Brussels-developed defense cooperation regime.
The path for Britain in a broader ground warfare context could become clearer if the government adopts a specific land equipment industrial strategy as part of an industrial strategy review for defense and security.
A land strategy involving sea and air controls that have already been completed is being considered, but a final decision is still pending.
The fact that Britain is keeping an eye on the European tank project is a step in the right direction for those who believe that the giants on the battlefield still have a future in the British Army. That didn’t appear to be the case, however, in August when national media in the UK reported that the Department of Defense was considering scrapping the service’s 227 Challenger 2 tanks as a fulcrum for more pressing future needs in areas like cyberspace, space and unmanned vehicles.
Defense Secretary Ben Wallace put an end to speculation in September when he denied the Challenger 2 force would be mothballed. However, he did not say how many tanks the British would upgrade.
Lethality and protection upgrades for the Challenger, if approved, are managed by RBSL, the UK-based Rheinmetall-BAE Systems joint venture. It includes the installation of a new turret with a 120 mm smooth barrel cannon, which will replace the rifle cannon currently installed in the vehicle.
A decision on program approval is imminent. The business case for the Lifetime Extension Program will be submitted to the Department of Defense approvals late last year. The idea is to make the vehicles durable by 2035 or even 2040.