Dispute over Germany’s super tank – what is it actually about?

Germany and France are working on a new main battle tank, the successor to the Leopard 2. When will development of the Leopard 3 be finished?

The Leopard 2 A8 is still one of the most powerful and reliable main battle tanks in the world. Ukraine has high hopes for the tank in the face of the Russian invasion, and over the last few decades Germany has exported many variants of the Leopard 2 to many countries around the world. But the plans go on.

France and Germany would like to build a new battle tank in cooperation: The “Main Ground Combat System” or the Leopard 3, as German manufacturers call the war machine. The new main battle tank is intended to replace the German Leopard 2 and the French Leclerc in the medium term.

But how far are both countries in development? An overview.

Both countries have already signed an agreement. In a joint project, the “Main Ground Combat System” (MGCS) is to be developed as a modern, high-performance, third-generation battle tank. The Ministry of Defense wrote in 2020: “Both countries should benefit equally from the cooperation, which is why the contracts to be concluded are based on 50 percent financing between Germany and France.”

The Rheinmetall model for the MGSC: The cannon and the turret are particularly controversial. (Source: Rheinmetall)

According to the Ministry of Defense, the plan envisages that the Leopard 3 could be integrated into the German armed forces from the mid-2030s. The first test models of the new battle tank are to be presented between 2025 and 2028. But the date doesn’t seem to be tenable anymore. “We will probably end up with the first delivery in 2040,” said Rheinmetall boss Armin Papperger to the business magazine “Capital”.

Franco-German dispute

So the development of the Leopard 3 is a long-term project. The joint development is intended to save time and increase alliance compatibility in NATO. But there is also disagreement because the Franco-German holding KNDS, in which the Leopard 2 manufacturer Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW) and the French state-owned company Nexter have merged, and the Düsseldorf-based armaments group Rheinmetall are fighting for influence in the project. The armament giants are pursuing different goals in some cases.

Specifically, the dispute revolves around several sensitive components for the new tank. In 2020, for example, Rheinmetall and Nexter were mainly fighting over who would be allowed to develop the turret – the heart of the main battle tank. Rheinmetall already unveiled its prototype in July 2020: the turret had a 130 mm gun with an automatic loader – that would be the further development of the Leopard 2 A8. Nexter countered with its own design for a third-generation main battle tank. This is said to have a massive 140mm caliber gun, and in general the French model is far more ambitious than the German one.

So it is still completely unclear what the main battle tank will look like in the end. Germany and France and their respective industries each claim leadership in key tank technologies such as the cannon. There is no solution in sight, which is why the project is being delayed. In 2022, Rheinmetall presented its own competitor to the MGCS, the KF51 Panther. The company announced that it could not have had enough influence on the development of the MGCS.


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