Italy Plans to Modernize Its Tank Fleet with Leopard 2A8 and New MGCS European Tank Project

Italy is set to undertake a significant upgrade of its main battle tank fleet over the next two decades, according to recent announcements. In a move that underscores its commitment to modernizing its military capabilities, the Italian government will be incorporating up to 250 state-of-the-art tanks, co-developed with Germany and France.
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Citing open source information, currently, the Italian army is equipped with around 150 Ariete MBTS Main Battle Tanks. (Picture source Army Recognition)

As of 2023, the Italian Army's main battle tank (MBT) fleet predominantly consisted of the Ariete MBT. The organizational structure of the Italian Army at that time included two heavy brigades: the "Ariete" armored brigade in northeastern Italy and the "Garibaldi" mechanized brigade in southern Italy. Each of these brigades had tank regiments, with each regiment operating 41 Ariete MBTs. This organization resulted in a total of 123 Ariete MBTs across the Italian army.

The primary focus of this modernization effort is the acquisition of 125 Leopard 2A8 tanks, a future variant currently in development by Germany. These tanks are expected to start arriving in Italy by the end of this decade. This procurement is part of Italy's broader strategy to phase out its current fleet of locally developed C1 Ariete tanks.

The Leopard 2A8 is a proposed future variant of the Leopard 2 main battle tank, which is regarded as one of the world's most advanced and capable tanks. Originating from Germany, the Leopard 2 series has been continually updated since its introduction in the late 1970s. The Leopard 2A8 represents the latest evolution in this series, aiming to enhance its capabilities in response to modern battlefield requirements.

While specific details about the Leopard 2A8 are limited, it is expected to feature significant upgrades over its predecessors. These upgrades are likely to include advanced armor protection, possibly incorporating new composite materials or modular armor systems for enhanced survivability against contemporary threats. Additionally, the Leopard 2A8 is anticipated to have state-of-the-art fire control systems, improved powertrain for better mobility, and enhanced digital integration for better communication and coordination on the battlefield. These improvements are designed to maintain the Leopard's reputation as a top-tier main battle tank in terms of firepower, defense, and mobility.

Italy to Modernize its Tank Fleet with Leopard 2A8 and MGCS New European Tank Project 925 002
In 2023, German Company KNDS presented a concept demonstrator of its Leopard 2A8 tank during IDET, a defense exhibition that was held in the Czech Republic. (Picture source Army Recognition Group)

In a strategic partnership that spans across European defense powerhouses, Italy, through its national company Leonardo, has joined the Main Ground Combat System (MGCS) program. This program, a collaboration between French firm Nexter and German company Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW), is dedicated to developing a next-generation European battle tank. Italy's involvement in the MGCS program is seen as a pivotal step in strengthening its military ties within Europe, and particularly with France and Germany.

The Main Ground Combat System (MGCS) is a joint project primarily between Germany and France, aimed at developing a new generation of main battle tanks. This project is part of a broader initiative to modernize and unify European defense capabilities. The MGCS is intended to replace the current main battle tanks in service, such as the German Leopard 2 and the French Leclerc, around the 2030s.

The Leopard 2A8 and the future MGCS-developed tanks are expected to coexist in the Italian Army's arsenal for about two decades, eventually leading to the complete replacement of the C1 Ariete tanks. The new tanks from the MGCS program, once deployed, will significantly enhance the operational capabilities of the Italian forces. Estimates from the British defense portal Shephard suggest that Italy could be equipped with as many as 250 of these new tanks, aiming to maintain an operational capacity comparable to its current fleet.

The financial scope of this modernization is substantial, with each new tank estimated to cost at least $15 million. Consequently, the total investment for the proposed 250 tanks is projected to be around $4 billion. This figure includes costs associated with establishing a new production line and setting up the necessary supply chains.

In terms of corporate structure, Italy's stake in the MGCS program is capped at 20%. This decision follows various discussions and proposals around new tank developments in Europe, involving key players like Germany, Spain, Italy, and Sweden.

This ambitious fleet renewal plan marks a significant milestone in Italy's defense strategy, reflecting its commitment to maintaining a robust and modern military force in an increasingly complex global security landscape.

Defense News January 2024