PARIS — France and Germany remain committed to jointly developing a next-generation tank in the framework of the Main Ground Combat System project, French Armed Forces Minister Sébastien Lecornu and German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius told newspaper Le Monde in a joint interview.

A separate project by German, Spanish and Italian defense companies to develop a modern battle tank is an industry initiative, and not an alternative to the MGCS, Pistorius said. France and Germany are meeting regularly and are “determined” to continue their joint project to create one of the most modern armored systems in the world, he told Le Monde.

Lecornu and Pistorius are meeting at Evreux airbase west of Paris on Thursday, and Lecornu said the ministers will validate the operational requirements sought by the two countries’ armed forces. The French minister said the project goes beyond replacing the Leopard 2 and Leclerc, and is about defining a next-generation weapons system that includes major technological breakthroughs, and which could be in service for the next 30 to 50 years.

The MGCS project envisages a main battle tank supported by drones and artificial intelligence that will replace Germany’s Leopard 2 and France’s Leclerc fleets. The development is being led by KNDS, a joint venture of Krauss-Maffei Wegmann and Nexter, with Rheinmetall as a partner, after a letter of intent was signed in 2018.

German lawmaker Andreas Schwarz, who sits on the parliamentary defense committee, earlier this month suggested Germany should further develop the Leopard 2 to save “time, money and nerves,” in response to a Handelsblatt report of doubts around the MGCS project.

The French and Germany governments will set the pace of the MGCS project, and will work with the participating defense companies to define the conditions, Pistorius told Le Monde, in response to a question about a complicated working relationship between the industrial partners. The idea is for the MGCS to be an open project that other EU countries can join, the minister said.

Lecornu said it’s up to the countries to uphold the specifications, as they will be the customers. He said France’s 2024-2030 military budget includes nearly €500 million ($535 million) for the project.

The project will set a timetable that corresponds to the end of service for the Leopard 2 and Leclerc, according to Lecornu. He said France is renovating part of its fleet of Leclerc tanks to extend their service life beyond 2040.

Rudy Ruitenberg is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. He started his career at Bloomberg News and has experience reporting on technology, commodity markets and politics.

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