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Germany and France announce “breakthrough” for joint tank project plus defence production in Ukraine

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French and German Defence ministers Sébastien Lecornu and Boris Pistorius announced major breakthroughs in bilateral defence collaborations on Friday (22 March), as both countries will officially start to develop a new tank and produce military equipment in Ukraine.

The goal to explore the possibility of producing the first joint Franco-German tank was agreed between French President Emmanuel Macron and then Chancellor, Angela Merkel in 2017. 

However, for a long time, it remained dubious if the Main Ground Combat System (MGCS) would ever be realised as it got stuck in an early scoping phase over intricate disagreements between manufacturers and governments on both sides.

Key negotiations on the division of labour between French and German manufacturers and the modularity of the tank appear to be settled now.

“We have achieved a breakthrough today. It’s no exaggeration to describe this as historic for a project like this,” Pistorius told reporters in Berlin on Friday, following talks with his French counterpart. 

“We have agreed on the distribution of all tasks for this major project,” he added, refusing to go into detail about which side would produce what components, this had been controversial upfront.

The exact division of labour would be made public as part of a joint memorandum of understanding, expected to be signed on 26 April in Paris said the minister. He indicated that it would mirror the division of the joint fighter-jet programme FCAS, where France has been taking the lead.

The two ministers aim for their militaries to produce a conceptual document on technological requirements, in time for the next bilateral meeting in September, in France.

In an earlier statement, Lecornu credited the excellent relationship with Pistorius since he assumed office in 2022, for the agreement.

Pistorius called it the result of regular collaboration between Paris and Berlin and ‘a matter of will’.

The MGCS is designed to be a modular system, to replace and develop existing French and German ground combat technology, including the Leopard and Leclerc tanks.

Aside from a next-generation battle tank, it will include elements such as a defence system against drones, and guided weapons.

Pistorius said on Friday that a final product will be visible by 2035 at the earliest. But delays in the project’s start could push the production date further back.

Building on informal agreements between Macron and Chancellor Olaf Scholz from last week‘s Weimar Triangle meeting, the two ministers also presented a concrete plan to start the production of military equipment on Ukrainian soil.

“This morning, Boris and I want to announce that KNDS [a Franco-German defence conglomerate] (…) will open a subsidiary in Ukraine,“ said Lecornu.

He added the new plant would be focusing on boosting Ukrainian expertise and producing replacement parts for Franco-German equipment and ammunition on the ground.

Ukraine has been struggling with replenishing its ammunition supply, which has severely limited its ability to ward off Russia’s invasion.

The presence of KNDS which also manufactures ammunition, “will improve logistics and reliability regarding replenishing supplies in the long-term,“ said Lecornu.

German defence manufacturer Rheinmetall had already announced the creation of a first joint venture in Ukraine, for the production of ammunition earlier this year.

[Edited by Aurélie Pugnet/Rajnish Singh]

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