PARIS — Germany’s Rheinmetall on Monday unveiled its Panther main battle tank at the Eurosatory exhibition here, adding a new angle to the discussion in Europe about a next-generation tank for the continent.
The Panther is the product of the company’s own, years-long development, a risk that appears to have previously paid off with its lighter brother — the Lynx infantry fighting vehicle, which has become a serious contender in acquisition races worldwide.
Weighing in at 59 tons, the fully-digitized Panther features a 130 mm cannon, compared with a 120 mm weapon on the Leopard 2, the German Army’s go-to tank since the 1980s. The larger, heavier projectiles would deliver “over 50% greater effectiveness at significantly longer ranges,” the company said in a statement.
Crewed by three, but with space for a fourth, it also boasts a drone-launching pod as well as launchers for loitering munitions, a type of hovering rocket that can be programmed to wait in the air before swooping down, warhead first, on its target.
Rheinmetall CEO Armin Papperger positioned the new tank as coming at a time when a war of heavy weapons has returned to Europe. “We have seen over the past couple of months what could happen, and what happened in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine,” he said, referring to a battle dynamic in which the tanks fleets of both sides are doing damage and sustaining losses at the same time.
To increase survivability, Rheinmetall built into the Panther its suite of passive, active and top-attack protection systems. Its smaller footprint means the vehicle can pass through tight tunnels while loaded on rail cars, a feat that requires advance preparation for larger tank types, according to the company.
Rheinmetall’s Panther push comes as the German-French defense partnership, entrusted with producing next-generation European weaponry for air and land warfare, is treading water.
For Germany, progress on the Future Combat Air System is inextricably linked to progress on the Main Ground Battle Tank, a futuristic battle tank developed by the partnership of Germany’s Krauss-Maffei Wegmann and France’s Nexter, with Rheinmetall as something of a junior partner.
But the FCAS program is awaiting government intervention to unstick differences on workshare and intellectual property handling between its national industry leaders, Dassault and Airbus Defense.
Should that program fail, experts expect a domino effect that would likely sink the common tank program, which is languishing in the study phase, its concepts still PowerPoint-deep at best.
Papperger, who didn’t take questions at the unveiling ceremony, didn’t say how the Panther would fit into the future European tank market or MGCS plans. But executives at the company’s booth said the new product, and especially the gun technology, could well find its way into the French-German effort as something of the centerpiece for grouping unmanned assets and other weaponry comprising the larger effort.
The FCAS program features a similar approach, called “system of systems” in military parlance, with Dassault claiming ownership of the manned fighter jet at the core.
In addition, company officials said, the Panther could be an attractive option for Leopard-using armies not involved, or interested, in MGCS.
According to Papperger, serial production could begin in two and a half years.
Sebastian Sprenger is Europe editor for Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multinational investments in defense and global security. He previously served as managing editor for Defense News.