Eurosatory 2024: The Evolution of Land Warfare as the Wars in Ukraine and Gaza Rage On


By Pierre Tran

VILLEPINTE, France – There was something for everybody at Eurosatory, a trade show for land weapons and air-ground combat, which closed June 21. Above all, there was politics, domestic and international.

The vast halls and outdoor displays just north of the capital were packed with every kind of military and security kit, spanning from minute Lynred semiconductors to hefty concept battle tanks from both the KNDS French and German partners, and their rival, Rheinmetall.

There were photo ops for signings of European agreements such as procurement of the MBDA Mistral short-range missile, and launch of a project company for the main ground combat system (MGCS), a Franco-German future heavy tank and uncrewed vehicles.

A day before the show opened, there was the press day for a dynamic display of vehicles, with high action scenes of the BRI and GIGN special weapons and tactics teams, as well as the French army putting their vehicles through their paces.

Eurosatory hit the headlines even before the armed forces minister, Sébastien Lecornu, opened the show June 17, carefully cutting the ribbon under a media huddle of news cameras, photographers’ lenses, and smartphones.

The bloody conflict in Gaza threw foreign political pressure on the show a couple of weeks before the official opening, when France ordered the show organizer, Coges, to cancel exhibition space booked by 74 Israeli companies, sparking legal challenge on the Israeli side.

The French courts eventually ruled against the ban – which also denied Israeli executives entry to the show –  but diplomatic ties between Jerusalem and Paris hit a new low.

That banning order reflected the outrage of French president Emmanuel Macron, who called for “immediate ceasefire” and “respect of international law” following an Israeli strike on a refugee camp in Rafah, southern Gaza, killing dozens of Palestinian civilians in May.

Eurosatory has long been a highly commercial biannual showcase for military gear, more recently attracting on its opening day a small gathering of peace demonstrators, quietly handing out leaflets at the entrance to the show. This time, there were activists with the Palestine flag, protesting against the Israeli strike into Gaza in response to a deadly Hamas raid and seizing hostages in October.

Coges, led by ex army general Charles Beaudouin, is a unit of Gicat, the trade association for manufacturers of land weapons.

Politics At The Show

Jordan Bardella, 28, president of the far-right National Rally (RN) party, visited Eurosatory June 19, placing the arms show under the domestic political spotlight. The youthful politician said at the show he would back Ukraine if he were prime minister, but would not send French-built missiles capable of hitting targets inside Russia.

That would reverse policy which has seen Paris sending over to Kyiv the MBDA Scalp cruise missile, along with London’s shipping the Storm Shadow. Those weapons were reported to have boosted the Ukrainian air force’s long-range strike capability.

Bardella has also said those with dual nationality would be excluded from strategic security and defense posts if the RN won a parliamentary majority. The treasurer for the first nine years of the National Front – the National Rally party before it was rebranded – served in the Waffen SS Charlemagne division under Nazi command in the second world war, U.K. daily The Guardian, reported June 25, adding origins of the RN could be traced to the Vichy government, which collaborated with the Nazi occupation.

The June 18 date held significance for the French military, marking the date when a then little known general, Charles de Gaulle, made in 1940 a call to arms on BBC radio from London, urging the free French forces to rally round and fight against the Nazi occupation.

Meanwhile, Macron said June 24 France faced “civil war,” with the rise of the parties of the far right and far left in the opinion polls. The conservative and centrist parties languished far behind in the lead up to the election, seen as far reaching for France and the European Union.

France goes to the polls June 30, in the first of two rounds in a general election to return a prime minister and parliament. The RN and allies lead the opinion polls with 35.5 pct of the vote, followed by the left-wing/green coalition New Popular Front with 29.5 pct.

The second round in the election is due July 7.

Besides opening the show, Lecornu, with the DGA arms procurement chief, Emmanuel Chiva, dropped in June 20 on the gala evening of the Defense Journalists Association (AJD), a press club, held in the Val de Grace museum of the military medical service, elegantly housed in a former ancient abbey.  It remained to be seen whether Lecornu would remain in post after the election, with the prospect of radical change of government, either on the left or right wing.

President Emmanuel Macron provided hot political content when he came to the 2022 Eurosatory show, and said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine meant France was in a “war economy.”

A Rocky Path

An Italian announcement of a break-up of an industrial engagement just a week before the show opened, showed the path to European cooperation can be a rough one.

There was “interruption of the negotiations with KNDS to define a common configuration for the Main Battle Tank program of the Italian Army and to develop a broader cooperation,” Leonardo, an arms and aerospace company, said in a June 11 statement.

That interruption stemmed from Leonardo seeking to fit its own high technology kit in the turret on Leopard 2 A8 tanks, in a planned order for the Italian army, German and Italian sources said. But KNDS Deutschland declined to accept what has been reported as “Italianization” or customizing the German tank with Italian equipment.

The high value lay in fitting electronic systems in the turret, and the Italian side effectively sought work share on the tank, a source said.

“The parties did not manage to agree on configuration and consequently, talks about Leonardo’s strategic participation in KNDS have also fallen short,” Frank Haun, KNDS chief executive, said in a June 11 statement. “Yet KNDS continues to be committed to support the Italian Army,” he added.

KNDS had previously pointed up the significance of the deal, which not only opened the way to an Italian order for the Leopard 2, but also offered Italian partnership in the MGCS project.

The importance of that deal was signalled in a KNDS Dec. 13 statement. KNDS and Leonardo had formed a “strategic alliance” with the planned procurement of the Leopard 2 A8, and the companies collaborating in “development, manufacturing and maintenance” of the tank for the Italian army, KNDS said in the Dec. 13 statement.

KNDS Deutschland is the German partner with KNDS France, forming the KNDS joint venture launched by respectively KMW and Nexter. The latter two rebranded themselves to strengthen the KNDS corporate identity.

On Tank Time

The Leopard 2 has fallen out of the Italian selection, but Eurosatory showed there were plenty of alternatives, a source said, such as Iveco and Rheinmetall.

It is up to the Italian army to validate the selection.

The chief executive post of KNDS rotates every four years, and Haun is due to stand down this year, leaving the way open to Nicolas Chamussy, a source said.

Chamussy was formerly a senior executive at Airbus, a European aircraft builder.

The large KNDS outdoor stand displayed an enhanced main battle tank, or EMBT-ADT 140, a technology demonstrator for the MGCS. There were also a French Leclerc Evolution and German Leopard 2 A-RC 3.0 tank, with new 120mm and 140mm Ascalon cannons, due to test fire next year. Security staff in dark suits stood guard by the tanks.

Ascalon refers to a battle in the First Crusade in 1099, when the crusaders secured the capture of Jerusalem by defeating a Muslim army estimated to be twice their size.

The MGCS is due to enter service 2040, some five years later than initially planned. Development of the Leopard 2 for export sales was reported to cut the appetite for the German side of KNDS to work on the MGCS, a cooperative project.

On the Rheinmetall outdoor stand, there were the Panther KF-51U and Panther Evo Upgrade, two versions of the Panther KF-51 concept tank unveiled at the previous show.

The company is developing an uncrewed, remote-controlled gun turret on the Panther, just as KNDS is working on its Leopard 2 A-RC 3.0.

The French and German KNDS partner companies, Rheinmetall Landsysteme, and Thales signed a letter of intent at the show, on setting up a “project company” to work on the MGCS project. That letter was based on a memorandum of understanding signed in April by Lecornu and his German counterpart, Boris Pistorius.

“Contrary to what one might think, the tank is not dead,” Beaudouin said June 24 in business website La Tribune. “The reality is the subject is extremely rich, innovative and diverse.”

The Ukrainian forces halted an armored advance on Kyiv in the early stage of the Russian invasion, raising doubts over the usefulness of the heavy armor brigade.

Artillery, Missiles

On the artillery front, Croatia, Estonia, and France signed at the show a framework agreement for a pooled order for the Caesar truck-mounted 155mm, 52 caliber artillery, with financial support from the European Union, namely the European Defense Industry Reinforcement through Common Procurement Act (EDIRPA), the armed forces ministry said June 19.

Each of the nations was ordering 12 Caesar cannons, a source said, with a unit price of some €5 million, and a reduction of some 15 pct with the E.U. backing.

KNDS France builds the Caesar, and presented a Mark 2 version at the show. That model has an armored cabin among the modifications.

Armenia also placed an order for the Caesar, Lecornu said June 20 on a social platform.

The DGA will order the guns on behalf of the partner nations, under the cooperative deal. That procurement was part of a planned order for 72 Caesars agreed in a French-led plan to boost Ukraine’s artillery. Kyiv has ordered six Caesar guns, bringing the total order to 78.

The war in Ukraine pointed up the importance of artillery and the shortage of ammunition. That has prompted allied nations to boost ammunition production.

Rheinmetall signed June 20 a “framework contract” with the German Bundeswehr armed forces to deliver 155mm shells in a deal worth up to €8.5 billion, the company said. The order was to replenish German and allied stocks, and support Ukrainian forces. Delivery is due next year, with shells to be sent to Ukraine, Estonia, Denmark, and the Netherlands.

On missiles, Eurosam displayed a new multi-layered SAMP/T NG air defense system, with the unique selling proposition of hooking up the common anti-air modular missile-extended range (CAMM-ER), vertical launch Mica NG, and Aster 30 B1 NT weapons to hit air threats at short, medium and long range.

An open architecture of the command and control system allows plugging in the French Thales Ground Force 300 and Italian Leonardo Kronos radars, and those missiles into the command unit, to track and hit the threats. The GF 300 replaces the Arabel radar.

That multi-layered defense can be seen as an alternative to the European Sky Shield Initiative launched by Germany, which combines the Israeli Arrow 3, U.S. Patriot, and German IRIS-T.

Eurosam is a joint venture between MBDA and Thales.

Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, France, and Hungary signed June 19 a framework agreement for procurement of the short-range MBDA Mistral missile, the French ministry said. The total volume was expected to exceed 1,500 units of the surface-to-air missile.

France announced that European Mistral deal last year, reflecting Macron’s annoyance over  Berlin’s call to allies to sign up for Sky Shield. That German project excluded Aster SAMP/T, leaving the Franco-Italian missile system on the European sidelines.

And Rockets

One of the first weapons to see at the show’s main entrance was the life-size model of a concept ground rocket dubbed frappe longue portée-terre (FLP-T) on the Safran stand. The mock up bore MBDA and Safran company names. This was to be pitched as replacement to the French army’s lance roquette unitaire (LRU), based on the M31 guided ground rocket from Lockheed Martin. Ariane Group and Thales were reported to be pitching a rival weapon.

Safran, then known as Sagem, was part of a group which won in 2011 a contract to convert the then unguided rocket to the LRU precision weapon. That group included Airbus, Thales, and was led by Krauss-Maffei Wegmann. The European group beat a rival offer from Lockheed Martin to supply the fire control system to deliver precision targeting.

MBDA also displayed at its outdoor stand a concept weapon dubbed land cruise missile, based on its naval cruise weapon.

Infrared On Growth Path

On infrared components, Lynred was “doubling its production capacity,” said Hervé Bouaziz, executive president of the builder of military and civil IR sensors.

The company launched last year a three-year program to boost production of IR components in “extremely clean rooms,” with the production target set for mid-2025, he said. Those clean rooms, designed to be entirely free of dust, were in Grenoble, in the French Alps.

Lynred was investing €85 mln in its Campus project to build a new production site, with a  focus on bolometer heat sensors, the company said in statement May 10, 2023. The new site will include 8,200 m2 of connected clean rooms, double the present capacity.

Meanwhile, there was commercial pressure to cut the time to market with new products, with a commercial life of 10-15 years, he said. There was a market for dual military and civil use for certain products. The recent introduction of new regulation in the U.S. has widened prospects for large-scale adoption of infrared sensor-based products in the car market.

Lynred expected 2024 sales to stay stable compared to 2023 sales of some €220 million,

The market trend has been massive use of tactical drones China, Russia, and Ukraine, while there was demand for IR sensors from night vision goggles for troops and thermal weapon sights, and remote controlled munitions.

Lynred had appointed Bouaziz as chairman, and Xavier Caillouet chief executive, the company said in January. Bouaziz previously worked at the DGA on the Mirage and Rafale fighter jet programs, and served as armaments attaché in the French embassy in Washington in 2005. He later joined Safran.

Caillouet previously worked at Thales, including postings in the U.S. and Singapore.

Lynred is a joint venture of Thales and Safran.

Outside M&A Envelope

Thales was not making a bid for IT company Atos, Philippe Keryer, Thales executive vice president for strategy, research and technology, told reporters at the show June 20.

There had been media reports Thales and Dassault Aviation were poised to make a joint offer for Tech Foundations, a unit of Atos, a distressed technology company hobbled with almost €5 billion of debt.

Atos was a large company, with annual sales of €10 billion, Keryer said, when asked about making an offer for the company. While Thales routinely took a look at companies up for sale, there was a guiding rule of a cap of €300 million on acquisitions, he said.

Thales and technology company Sopra Steria were keen to acquire Atos’ cybersecurity business, and contracts with the armed forces ministry, media reports said. Those sensitive defense contracts were with Bull, which Atos acquired in 2014.

Atos has said it had completed negotiations with the government on measures to protect “sovereign interests,” Reuters reported.

Airbus had taken a look at acquiring Atos, but had turned away twice.

AI Is In The System

Meanwhile, on artificial intelligence, Thales was working on embedding AI software in systems for its hardware, including sonar and radar sensors, Kerer said. AI was effectively a  term for algorithms, which the company has been developing for the last 30 years, he said.

Examples of the use of AI included the avionics for a helicopter flight plan, with the onboard system recommending a route after the pilot keyed in the priority of “survivability.”

The AI software could be embedded in the Ground Master radar, helping the system to distinguish a drone from a bird, eliminating a “false positive.” The company has been working four years on writing AI into a GM 200 radar, with certification expected towards the end of the year.

There was real-time processing of data on an airborne Talios electro-optical pod, allowing recognition and targeting, cutting the decision loop by hours, while the human remained in the loop, he said.

The strategy could be summed up as melding sensor and system and AI, he said. That could be seen in the collaborative combat in the French army Scorpion program, with vehicles sharing information gathered by radar and optronics.

AI was also seen as crucial, with strict rules needed in drawing up an “autonomy contract” for drones, with friendly drones being sent up to defend against swarms of attack drones.

There is a caveat, however.

“One hundred percent certainty doesn’t exist,” he said.

Elsewhere at the show, there was Sogitech, a training and simulation company, showing a virtual reality screen and a machine gun for training a gunner on a helicopter. That virtual display reflected the work the company has done with a Scandinavian force for training machine gunners on the NH90 transport helicopter.

That training display indicated the range of kit and services presented at the show.

On the press day, individually prepared hot dogs, a selection of refined cheeses, and scoops of designer ice cream were served. On the opening day of the show, the private office of the defense ministry sent a text advisory lunch was available at the press centre.

Professionally catered meals were served up, no charge, in the press room, and the black tea was served, milk first, at the bar.

There was clearly awareness a media army marches on its stomach.

Featured Photo is credited to Paul Grayson