LONDON — Britain and Germany moved closer to launching a joint project for main battle tank ammunition this week with the signing of an agreement that takes the project to the next stage of development.

The two sides signed a statement of intent April 27 to move forward development of a 120mm enhanced kinetic energy, or EKE, round during a meeting in London between U.K. national armaments director Andy Start and his German counterpart, Vice Adm. Carsten Stawitzki.

A statement released by the British government after the signing said defense officials hope ongoing discussions lead to a joint program by the end of the year to field the new armor-piercing round for British Army Challenger 3 and German Leopard 2 tanks.

“Under the terms of the new agreement, Germany and the U.K. will also remain open for additional nations to join the cooperation or be export recipients, as well as continuing discussions on potential collaboration for other types of 120mm tank ammunition,” the statement read.

Stawitzki signaled that expansion of the program to include other nations would be welcome sooner rather than later.

“With the statement of intent being signed, the U.K. and Germany will consider the request to allow for additional partners to join the program as soon as possible,” he said.

The two nations are already in discussion with a potential additional partner, but nobody is identifying who that is.

In the meantime, U.K. and German officials are preparing the ground for the joint program. A proof-of-principle evaluation already passed live-fire testing, and the qualification stage has begun.

The statement said the next phase of qualification work would see the nations “demonstrating that the new munition passes all legal and regulatory standards.”

The British Army is the only operator of the Challenger tank in Europe. The Leopard 2, on the other hand, is widely used by NATO countries and others, potentially leading to significant export opportunities for an advanced EKE round.

“The standardized ammunition will not only benefit battlefield collaboration with many of our NATO allies, but has important export potential for U.K. and German defense industry partners,” British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said.

Rheinmetall Waffe Munition holds the design authority for the new tank ammo project, and the company is in talks with its U.K. suppliers to take a share of the program.

An export opportunity was on display April 28 as Rheinmetall announced it had secured a €200 million (U.S. $220 million) order for tank ammunition from an unnamed European customer for delivery between this year and 2025.

The British Army’s outdated Challenger 2 is the only NATO tank firing rifled 120mm ammunition, but an £800 million (U.S. $1 billion) program led by Rheinmetall-BAE Systems joint venture RBSL is underway to extensively modernize 148 of the vehicles to the Challenger 3 standard.

The standout element of the upgrade is the installation of a new turret carrying Rheinmetall’s latest generation L55A1 smoothbore gun. Firing a smoothbore gun will bring the Challenger 3 configuration into line with all other NATO tanks, thereby enhancing interoperability.

Initial operating capability of the Challenger 3 is scheduled for 2027, with full operating capability targeted for 2030. The new ammunition is scheduled to be available in time for the latter milestone.

Andrew Chuter is the United Kingdom correspondent for Defense News.

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