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Europe’s Defence Future: The Strategic Importance of the MGCS Project (Opinion)

28th May 2024 - 15:00 GMT | by Sam Hart, Simon Wilkins


The MGCS project envisages a family of combat and support vehicles. (Photo: Hensoldt)

The Main Ground Combat System (MGCS) project, initiated by Germany and France in 2018, symbolises a transformative step forward in European defence capabilities.

Initiated by NEXTER (France) and Krauss-Maffei Wegman (KMW, Germany), with both nations sharing a 50/50 partnership, MGCS is poised to be the quintessential next-generation main battle tank, integrating cutting-edge technologies and pioneering a new era in armoured warfare.

MGCS is not merely a replacement for the ageing fleets of Leopard 2s and Leclercs but is envisioned as a comprehensive ‘system of systems’. This new platform is expected to incorporate hybrid-electric propulsion, advanced armour systems prioritising active over passive protection, and possibly a groundbreaking turretless variant that can launch munitions and missiles.

Envisioned to enter production by 2035, MGCS represents the pinnacle of Western armoured vehicle design, tailor-made for the challenges of the 2030s and beyond.

Strategic Benefits Amidst Rising Competition

The MGCS project’s strategic advantages are clear. It promises interoperability across European armies, standardisation of training and logistics, and potentially lower life-cycle costs due to shared development and production.

Furthermore, the collaborative nature of the MGCS project could strengthen the European defence industrial base, offering a counterbalance to the growing global competition in the armoured vehicle market, particularly from rising powers such as India.

However, the MGCS also faces considerable challenges. The primary concern is the timeline – set to be operational by 2035, the project may not meet the immediate needs of countries requiring rapid enhancement of their armour capabilities.

Moreover, the MGCS’s ambitious scope could lead to complexities in multinational cooperation, which historically has been a stumbling block for similar defence projects.

Technological Pioneering and Geopolitical Impacts

The MGCS project will pioneer numerous technological advancements that could redefine battlefield engagements.

The project’s emphasis on active protection systems over heavier passive armour signifies a shift towards mobility and adaptability in armoured warfare. Additionally, the system’s hybrid-electric propulsion is not just a nod to modernisation but a strategic move towards greater operational efficiency and sustainability, with the potential to reduce the logistical footprint.

On the geopolitical front, the MGCS project is a testament to strengthening Franco-German ties within the EU framework, setting a precedent for future collaborative defence projects.

The inclusion of other EU nations and possibly NATO allies into the MGCS programme could further solidify a unified European defence posture, countering external pressures and influence from near-peer adversaries.

A Critical Juncture for European Defence

The financial burden is considerable, with development costs projected to exceed $3 billion and individual units costing around $15 million. However, the time investment required before MGCS becomes operational is more pressing.

In the current geopolitical climate, the time required for MGCS development poses a strategic risk to European nations that might find themselves reliant on outdated technology in a rapidly evolving battlefield environment.

The ongoing conflict in Ukraine and increasing instability in the Middle East underscore the urgent need for modernised defence platforms. European nations currently depend on older models like the Italian C1 Ariete and the French Leclerc, which are seeing accelerated obsolescence.

Countries like Italy have expedited their modernisation efforts in response, as evidenced by the recent acquisition of Leopard 2A8s to replace older tanks ahead of MGCS’s completion.

The Way Forward

As European nations grapple with the decision to invest in MGCS or seek interim solutions, the project faces an uncertain future.

With nations like Hungary and Ukraine already exploring interim options like the Rheinmetall Panther KF51, MGCS must adapt to an evolving market, ensuring its relevance by integrating lessons from current conflicts and technological advancements.

By fostering collaboration and innovation, MGCS has the potential to redefine European military strength and industrial capacity, setting a new standard for defence technology and cooperation well into the future.

Nevertheless, the ambitious goals of this multinational endeavour carry the inherent risks of prolonged development timelines and complex international collaborations.

While MGCS promises a significant leap in military technology and strategic capability, Europe must carefully balance its long-term aspirations with the pressing need to maintain robust defence mechanisms in an unpredictable global landscape.

Sam Hart


Sam Hart

Sam Hart is the Land Analyst for Shephard Media's Defence Insight. Before joining Shephard, Sam …

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Simon Wilkins


Simon Wilkins

Simon Wilkins is a founder of Cytec Consulting and has nearly 30 years’ experience in …

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