Bang at the arms fair. Rheinmetall presents a full-fledged main battle tank. The KF51 Panther is the West’s first response to Putin’s T-14 Armata. And he threatens the Franco-German project of a joint super tank.

At the Eurosatory 2022 armaments fair, Rheinmetall surprisingly presented a full-fledged main battle tank. The KF51. He is said to take on Putin’s T-14 Armata. The KF51 is the first Western development of a main battle tank since the Cold War. Rheinmetall is not shy about naming it: the KF51 bears the traditional name Panther. And thus takes the name of the Panzerkampfwagen V (Sd. Kfz. 171) of the German Wehrmacht.

With the KF51, Rheinmetall offers all countries that want to modernize their armies a modern alternative. There is also a less beautiful side of the development. Germany and France are jointly developing a battle tank. He, too, is said to be the answer to Russia’s T-14 Armata. But the Main Ground Combat System (MGCS) suffers from delays and rivalries. Among other things, Rheinmetall was de facto booted out by the “partners” in managing the project. The panther is also an answer to that. Visually, it is based on the Lynx infantry fighting vehicle. Like the Panther, the Lynx is a purely industrial development without the involvement of the Bundeswehr bureaucracy. The Panther is heavier, larger, and more heavily armed than the Lynx. The main battle tank weighs 59 tons, which is below the level of the Leopard 2. It is also equipped with a 130 MM caliber tank gun instead of the 120 MM.

Completely new tower

Rheinmetall is reluctant to go into detail. But the Panther is likely to break away from the outdated concepts of Cold War tanks. It will adopt innovations that are already common in the lighter armored personnel carriers and that the T-14 Armata already uses. Unfortunately, this does not include a fully autonomous turret that does not require a crew. The Panther will only have an auto-loader. He will have his own drone and a hard kill system.

Of course, the panther is also a message to Putin, but actually to the whole world. The Franco-German “super tank” MGCS will be delivered in 2035 at the earliest, given the usual delays in such cooperation, 2040 is more realistic. Since the T-14 is already being built, albeit in small numbers, there is a long waiting period during which the companies involved in the MGCS cannot offer an adequate tank. Countries that want to arm themselves in the face of the threat from Russia should be put off with quite expensive modernizations of their ancient tanks from the Cold War.

Tanks faster on the market

The panther will push into this gap. It can be assumed that it can be delivered before 2030. The conditions should be similar to the Lynx. This means that production is not tied to Rheinmetall’s existing facilities, but can be set up in the customer’s country, so that many units can be delivered in a relatively short time. It can also be assumed that the battle tank will not remain the same, but that other models will be presented on the KF51 platform. Rheinmetall strives for best practice solutions in the export models. This means that an attempt is made to achieve maximum performance with reasonable effort. This should make the Panther easier to build and maintain than the models developed under the auspices of the armaments bureaucracy. It should also be significantly cheaper.

For the MGCS, the Panther complicates the situation enormously. It can hardly be assumed that countries that order the Panther want to change the system after only ten years, the Panther is taking potential customers away from the MGCS. At the same time, the pressure on the project is growing. The higher costs and the late delivery now have to be measured against the Panther. The MGCS must clearly surpass it.

Panther – a name with tradition

When it comes to naming, Rheinmetall remains true to tradition. Since the Second World War, German battle tanks have been named after big cats. It’s politically controversial, but the Panther name has a ring to it, like the AK47 in assault rifles. The state project for a tank howitzer shied away from the names from the Nazi era, so the embarrassing name “Panzerhaubitze 2000” came about. The German Wehrmacht reacted to the T-34 with the Panther. The Soviet development presented the outstanding tank concept in the years 1941 to 1943. At that time, the Panther was superbly armed, had excellent off-road capabilities and was popular with its crews.

But its first use in 1943 in the Kursk front was premature. The Panthers faced more technical problems than the Soviets. Once these teething problems were resolved, it became apparent that the Panther was superior to the T-34 in terms of performance, at least if you disregard the engine. But there was one thing the German designers could not imitate. The T-34 was designed for easy production and could be manufactured in large numbers by only semi-skilled workers. The Panther, on the other hand, was a masterpiece of craftsmanship and never managed to match the production numbers of the Russian T-34 or the American Sherman.