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New German big cats circle Italian Leopard corpse (Opinion)

27th June 2024 - 17:15 GMT | by Sam Hart in Paris

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Does Rheinmetall hold the future of Italian heavy armour in its hands via the KF-41 Lynx and the recently unveiled KF-51U? (Photo: Sam Hart)

The only thing missing from Rheinmetall’s display at Eurosatory this year was an Italian flag flown between its KF-51 Panther and KF-41 Lynx. The smiles on the faces of its business development team, however, and the circling of Italian delegations told just as clear of a story.

Following the collapse of negotiations earlier this month for 125 Italian Leopard 2A8s between KNDS and Leonardo, Italy’s two largest vehicle programmes worth north of a combined US$11 billion have been thrown wide open.

As the only platform the Italian Government outwardly considered in 2023 for its unexpected requirement for an order of 125 new MBTs, the apparent deselection of Leopard 2 has thrown the programme back into speculation, right as the European MBT market received an array of new ‘interim’ platforms at this year’s Eurosatory.

One manufacturer no doubt pleased by the collapse of the Leopard 2A8s is Rheinmetall, whose ‘pariah outlier’ KF-51 Panther of Eurosatory 2022 found itself first on many defence media lips as the new leading choice.

Rheinmetall opts for direct replacement for turret on Panther Evolution Upgrade

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European MBT market shifts: KNDS and Rheinmetall unveil competing platforms

Displaying two new platforms at Paris Nord Villepinte, Rheinmetall can boast of offering at least two options for an Italian Army looking away from the Leopard 2 in the KF-51 and the freshly unveiled KF-51U sporting an unmanned auto loader turret.

Rheinmetall KF-51U
Rheinmetall’s new KF-51U. (Photo: Sam Hart)

Rheinmetall’s newfound position doesn’t end there; the Italian A2CS programme, set to replace nearly 700 Dardo and M113 IFVs, now offers a so-called ‘double-ticket’ opportunity for a prospective manufacturer able to meet the requirements for both an MBT and IFV.

For an Italian government and army already seeking a fast solution for its heavy armour capability gap, the appeal of a single manufacturer is undoubtedly attractive, allowing commonality of parts, training, design, and, crucially, manufacturing.

Unlike the unproven KF-51 Panther, Rheinmetall’s KF-41 Lynx IFV has already received a now almost completed order from Hungary and is one of two platforms downselected for the US’s behemoth XM30 programme set to replace the entire US Army M113 fleet.

KF-51 Eurosatory 2022
The original KF-51 on display at Eurosatory 2022. (Photo: Shephard)

Only encouraging speculation of an Italian-Rheinmetall double ticket is Hungary's December 2023 announcement that it was funding a €288 million ($308.4 million) contract to develop the Panther KF-51 through to production maturity. While not a production contract outright, this at least heavily suggests a future Hungarian order of the platform alongside its now-in-service KF-41 Lynx, exactly as the Italians may look to copy.

Rheinmetall’s only other likely competition for a ‘double-ticket’ deal in the South Korean Hanwha may have seemed possible if not for their current lack of international trade credit due to the sheer volume of Australian and Polish export orders which no doubt contributed to the smiles in the Rheinmetall chalet last week.

Shephard's Eurosatory 2024 coverage is sponsored by:

BAE Systems

XM30 Mechanized Infantry Combat Vehicle (USA)

AICS [Italy]

M113

Leopard 2A7/A8

KF-51 Panther

Sam Hart

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Sam Hart


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

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