Nexter company has disclosed the schedule for the German-French next generation main battle tank project;
Poland was willing to participate in the said initiative;
The programme is portrayed as a major opportunity for the domestic industry;
It still remains an open question, whether Poland would join the effort, which requires a professional involvement, also in the politics domain.
French-German new generation tank programme is rapidly accelerating. The initiative is based upon mutual industrial collaboration. Poland has been willing to participate in the said initiative, however no signals have been received so far, from the European partners, in response to the Warsaw’s inquiry. It remains an open question whether we will witness Polish involvement here. Nonetheless, one should note that the whole process, should it take place, will require a lot of political effort and will to succeed.
According to Defense News, Stéphane Mayer, the head of the Nexter company, has disclosed the initial schedule for the joint next generation main battle tank programme a few days ago, at a press conference. The new platform would be delivered around 2030, five years after conclusion of the relevant R&D contract. A technology demonstrator/prototype is expected to be created before the date above, with a deadline set around 2020.
The European next-gen. tank programme involves the French Nexter and German KMW companies. It may be said that the whole effort is being carried out as a response to the requirements signalled by the authorities. Governments of Germany and France had previously approved a merger of KMW and Nexter companies which, together, now form the KNDS umbrella company. One of the primary goals of the aforesaid fusion was to design a new tank, known under a working name of “Leopard 3” or “Leoclerc”.
Defence24.pl found out that in the second half of 2016 Poland began talks on potential inclusion in the consortium. Both KMW and Nexter were expressing their readiness to incorporate Poland in the programme, as Warsaw could potentially become a major customer. The issue was being brought up in the dialogue established between Antoni Macierewicz (former head at the Polish Ministry of Defence) and his German counterpart, Ursula von der Leyen.
The Polish involvement would entail manufacturing and assembly of the tank’s structural elements by one of the PGZ companies. According to the unofficial information we have obtained, neither the French, nor the Germans, did issue any specific proposals, with regards to the Polish inquiries. Off-the-record we have found out that French and German manufacturers assumed a stance which is open, however political decisions and declarations are expected first. Thus, a major political pressure is required, to make Poland a part of the project.
This bears a great degree of relevance, as the new generation main battle tank programme may receive EDA funding, or extra funds provided within the framework of other EU instruments, such as PESCO. According to the project presented by the European Commission, at least three entities, hailing from at least two countries, may submit their requests to receive the Fund’s support. Meanwhile, the whole infrastructure used to conduct the subsidies-driven activities is required to be located within the EU territory.
To make sure that Polish industry actually participates in the aforesaid project, it is required that involvement is seen from the very beginning, before division happens with regards to the EU financial support. Key decisions on industrial cooperation need to be made as soon as possible. If the Polish industry successfully joins the European main battle tank programme, then we may speak of a whole new level at which the Polish companies would be perceived.
The Polish interest in the French-German initiative was mentioned by Antoni Macierewicz back in 2016, in his interview for Defence24.pl. According to the recommendations contained within the Strategic Defence Review, a document issued by the Polish MoD, market analysis pertaining to acquisition of a next generation main battle tank platform began. The new vehicle would primarily constitute a replacement of the T-72/PT-91 tanks. This is a consequence of resignation from the Gepard close-support vehicle programme, contained in the SDR.
Theoretically the Polish Ministry of Defence could decide to acquire a certain quantity of existing main battle tanks, in connection to the new generation platform development. Acquisition of second-hand Leopard 2 tanks is going to be a major challenge though. The purchases, modernization and sales of such main battle tanks is to be managed by the European Defence Agency. The tanks in question are expected to be upgraded up to the Leopard 2A7 standard, with KMW acting as the primary contractor. Poland would like to upgrade the extra tanks up to the 2PL version (joint package developed by PGZ and Rheinmetall), for the sake of obtaining unification of the fleet.
On the other hand, procurement of brand-new tanks would be costly. One of the reports issued by the German MoD suggests that pricetag associated to a single example of the Leopard 2A7+ may come at a whooping price of 13 to 15 million euros. Following an acquisition of a small batch of new Leopard 2 tanks, the Germans could be inclined to include the Polish industry in the new generation tank programme, even though high cost would be entailed, should such step be taken.
Thus, it cannot be ruled out that the members of the consortium came to a conclusion that it would be easier to treat Poland solely as a customer, not as a partner. This could also be motivated by the fact that, according to the declarations made by the European NATO member states, Poland is the nation which is interested in owning a tank fleet which would be quantitatively the largest, with an exception of Turkey working on its own Altay platform. Hence, the Polish Army will need more tanks than France and Germany combined.
Berlin has increased the target quantity of MBTs up from 225 to 320 just recently. To make the above possible, the older Leopard 2 main battle tanks are modernized and brought back into service. Nonetheless, replacement of the said vehicle would be required anyway, after 2030. The French, on the other hand, are willing to modernize 200 Leclercs, keeping them in active service. Assuming that the new tanks would be introduced in equivalent quantities, 520 main battle tanks is the final number of the vehicles remaining available.
The Polish military currently operates 247 Leopard 2 platforms, 232 examples of the PT-91 tank, and around 200 T-72M1 vehicles – which, overall, translates into around 700 main battle tanks in total. The quantity may go up, as a result of the recommendations contained in the Strategic Defence Review document. The maximum limit, according to the CFE-1 treaty, is defined as 1730 vehicles. Considering the financial and organizational abilities, the Polish military would need around 800 new main battle tanks. Germany and France are looking forward to procure 50% less vehicles.
The representatives of the Polish Ministry of Defence had been mentioning the plans to develop a new generation main battle tank before. In December last year, Tomasz Szatkowski, in his interview for Tysol.pl (Tygodnik-Solidarność, Solidarity Weekly), did not deny that a certain quantity of Leopard tanks could be acquired somewhere around 2020s. He confirmed the fact that Poland is involved in a dialogue with France and Germany. Szatkowski noted that outside the scope of French-German collaboration, other options are also taken into account, as the Polish next generation MBT programme is going to be a competitive one. Turkey and South Korea were indicated as serious alternatives.
However, commercial solutions also exist. We shall remember that two major armour companies exist in Germany, with one of them bound to become a leader in case of this national project, as it seemed so far. The second one will also be interested in developing equipment of some sort. (...) Always, to make the negotiation effective, one needs to multiply his/hers options. And we will most certainly do so.
According to Szatkowski, equality related to conditions of cooperation and compliance with the requirements would be the main issues Poland is going to consider before joining the new generation main battle tank programme. Statement made by the Polish official suggests that the MoD is open to discuss a variety of options, in case of the new tanks. The Ministry seems to be looking for the most beneficial solution.
However, the recent experiences show that programmes that enjoy spectacular PR with regards to development and cooperation (Anders land platform, Huzar helicopter), frequently end up in a fiasco. Poland needs strong involvement of the MoD, diplomacy and industry, to ensure realistic involvement in the new generation MBT project.
It should be pointed out, especially considering the context above, that back in the 1990s Poland received a proposal to join the AJT programme that led to development of the M-346 Master jet. The competency and expertise offered by the domestic industry were rated highly by the Italians, especially when it came to the Iskra trainer experience. Poland was to invest USD 100 million in the project.
Initially, the AJT platform was based on the AEM-130 design in collaboration with with Russia (derived from Yak-130). In 2000 Alenia Aermacchi decided to finalize the project, while Yakovlev was paid USD 77 million, which was a pricetag assigned to documentation. Ultimately the Italians managed to develop the Master platform which became one of the most important of the Leonardo’s export products.
Poland, back in the 1990s, did not decide to join a multinational initiative, as the industry was busy developing own designs, including indigenous Iryda or Skorpion jets. The Polish projects turned out to be a failure. In 2014 the Polish Ministry of Defence decided to procure M-346 Masters anyway (along with training and support package). Thus, it is worth to make sure that the new tank programme scenario is different than the one we have witnessed in case of Master.
If Poland becomes an equal member of the consortium, then it would yield a full control over the parameters, technologies and pricetag with regards to the tanks. However, the requirement to acquire around 500 tanks, needed to urgently replace the post-Soviet armour assets, translates into investment exceeding PLN 20 billion. What part of this sum is going to bring a benefit to the Polish industry?
The new generation tank programme was one of the primary driving factors motivating a merger of the KMW and Nexter companies, back in 2015. As a result of the above factors, KNDS umbrella company was founded, the main business goal of which is to develop and deliver new land platforms. The entity in question is currently working on a next generation artillery system which is expected to replace the PzH 2000 and Caesar sphs.
The French and German authorities have made an assumption that successor of the Leopard 2 and Leclerc platforms would be created through a Franco-German industrial cooperation. KNDS is not going to be the only entity involved, as Rheinmetall is expected to submit its technological proposals (e.g. a 130 mm cannon). Rheinmetall has been working with KMW in the past (development of the Leopard 2 platform), which now is a major argument. Some of the new technologies were showcased during the London-based DSEI 2017 event, when advanced modernization of the Leopard platform was premiered.
However, the new generation main battle tank programme is still in its infancy, and no final decisions have been made as to who is going to be involved. German and French governments are still negotiating the initiative’s final shape. It is possible that the effort would be divided between KNDS and its partners.
Undoubtedly, Poland will be in need of procuring new generation tank, while involvement of the Polish industry in the aforesaid initiative may bear a key relevance for the defence sector.
Considering the above factors, the Polish administration shall be highly motivated to have Poland included in the consortium at all costs. Should this happen, it would be a major success for Defence Minister Błaszczak and for PM Morawiecki. If no success is achieved within that regard, most probably Poland will still be announcing more programmes and plans, while in one decade the government will boast with another success - procurement of a new tank.