Dhe name has a special symbolism, especially in these times. At the Eurosatory armaments fair in Villepinte north of Paris, the armaments group Rheinmetall presented a newly developed main battle tank called the “Panther”. That means it has the same name as an armored vehicle from World War II, which the Wehrmacht used primarily in the war against the Soviet Union.
The “KF51 Panther”, as the vehicle is called in full, should be the successor to the Leopard 2 if the armaments company has its way. According to the company, the tank “has been redesigned from the ground up”, with the main difference being the on-board cannon, which fires a larger caliber of 130 millimeters.
The 120-millimeter on-board cannons are currently common, but Rheinmetall developed them back in the early 1970s. The effect of the larger on-board cannon is therefore 50 percent greater with a “significant increase in range”, as Rheinmetall puts it.
With the “KF51 Panther”, Rheinmetall joins the approximately 1800 exhibitors who are represented this year at the Eurosatory, which lasts until Friday. The largest armaments fair for land-based defense has experienced a significant upgrade as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The organizers are expecting up to 100,000 visitors.
There is no Russian stand, and representatives from the Chinese armaments industry are only coming this year with a minimal number of participants: while there were 54 exhibitors from the Middle Kingdom in 2018, when Eurosatory last took place, this year there are only four.
On the other hand, the rush this year is large on the American and especially on the European side. The French public was already talking about a “mini defense summit” beforehand, after all, more than 200 official delegations from almost 100 countries are also arriving.
French President’s visit shows growing appreciation
French President Emmanuel Macron opened the Eurosatory on Monday in the presence of his new Defense Minister Sébastien Lecornu. That alone should show the new status of the fair, in the past the government usually only sent the minister over.
However, Macron did not want to symbolize himself on Monday, but used his appearance in Villepinte to reaffirm his call for more strategic autonomy in Europe. France and the European Union have entered a “war economy” in which you have to organize yourself permanently, Macron said.
The European defense industry must become “much stronger” – otherwise new dependencies will arise. “Spending a lot of money to buy elsewhere is not a good idea,” the French president continued. He called the defense industry a “future sector”.
The industry is pleased with the changed perception
The ranks of tank, drone and helicopter manufacturers are pleased about the new tailwind from politics – and about the fact that the discussion about the “sustainability” of the industry seems to be over for the time being, keyword ESG criteria. “Europe is becoming conscious of its defence,” said Marc Darmon, fair organizer and deputy general manager of French defense company Thales.
In addition to new innovations such as ground robots, business deals will also be presented on the sidelines of Eurosatory. French and Lithuanian defense ministers met on Monday to sign a letter of intent to purchase Caesar guns. The artillery system is produced by the French company Nexter. Lithuania would become the tenth country to use Caesar guns.
On the German side, Rheinmetall’s “KF51 Panther” provided the most talks at the start of the week. After all, the Düsseldorf-based company is specifically positioning itself against its competitors Krauss-Maffei-Wegmann (KMW) and Nexter from France. Both companies merged to form KNDS seven years ago and have since been working on a successor to the Leopard 2 main battle tank, which the armed forces of both countries and other NATO countries in Europe are to adopt.
System integrator instead of one-stop solutions
In contrast to the Panther concept, which has so far been based exclusively on components already developed by Rheinmetall, KNDS does not rely on “in-house solutions”. Instead, they see themselves as a “system integrator” who obtains their subsystems from medium-sized suppliers or, when looking for climate-friendly drives, orients themselves towards innovations from civil engine construction.
Rheinmetall has taken over the so-called hull from the Leopard 2, i.e. the drive train with the diesel engine, the shift, reversing and steering gear and the entire running gear with the suspension, the chains and the rollers. At 59 tons, the weight is said to be lower than that of the tank that has been in series production since 1978, which is why the Panther is said to be faster and more agile than the Leopard in terrain.
Whether the Bundeswehr can actually become the reference customer for the new battle tank is an open question. Rheinmetall already markets the Lynx infantry fighting vehicle only abroad. The vehicle, which the Düsseldorf company first presented in 2016, has so far only been ordered by the Hungarian armed forces.
In Australia, Rheinmetall is in a final bidding competition with the Korean armaments group Hanwha Defense to equip the armed forces with around 450 of these Lynx infantry fighting vehicles. The Lynx KF31 model can transport up to 9 soldiers and weighs 38 tons. There should be room for three soldiers in the new Panther main battle tank.
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