The Future of Main Ground Combat Systems: KNDS’s ASCALON Gun and Its Revolutionary Potential


The Eurosatory 2022 exhibition witnessed a significant moment in the development of future western main battle tank (MBT) gun calibres. The KNDS stand showcased the latest advancements, including the larger 140 mm gun calibre. Developed by Nexter, this system, known as ASCALON (Autoloaded and SCAlabLe Outperforming guN), represents a substantial leap in tank armament technology. The ASCALON system has been under development for some time, with Nexter unveiling the project in the spring of 2021. However, the Paris exhibition marked its first public appearance in a major international forum, offering a glimpse of the gun and its ammunition.

Dominique Bouchaud, the ASCALON programme manager, provided insights into the development of this advanced weapon. Nexter’s decision to opt for a 140 mm calibre was influenced by previous work done in the 1990s as part of the Future Tank Main Armament (FTMA) programme, which produced several prototype guns in this calibre. Despite the lack of precise requirements from potential users, the Main Ground Combat System (MGCS) programme office issued high-level requirements that pointed towards significant growth potential and the need for future-proofing against evolving threats.

One of the benchmarks for the new system is the Russian T-14 Armata, which sets a high standard in terms of protection. Western manufacturers appear confident in their knowledge of the T-14’s armour, although its evolution before mass production remains uncertain. Another key requirement is increased range, with line-of-sight visibility on the battlefield rarely exceeding 1,500 to 2,000 meters. Thus, the new gun must be capable of firing Beyond-Line-Of-Sight (BLOS) ammunition, expanding its effective range to 5,000 meters and beyond.

The future MBT under the MGCS programme is expected to retain a main direct fire weapon, though it may incorporate additional weapon systems. Some experts compare the potential evolution of tanks to the transition from battleships to aircraft carriers in naval warfare, which provided greater flexibility. Both Nexter and Rheinmetall, key players in the MGCS programme, are developing guns with internal funds, with Rheinmetall unveiling its gun in 2016.

Bouchaud highlighted the distinct philosophy behind Nexter’s 140 mm gun. Unlike the FTMA’s 1.5-meter-long rounds, the new APFSDS (Armour Piercing Fin Stabilised Discarding Sabot) round is 1.3 meters long and weighs 30-35 kg, compared to a 120 mm APFSDS round, which is 984 mm long and weighs around 20 kg. The Leclerc MBT’s 120 mm smoothbore gun, fitted with an automatic loader, provides a valuable reference point, as such a system will likely be part of the future tank to handle the larger and heavier ammunition.

Maintaining reasonable chamber pressure was another critical design choice. The current peak pressure is lower than that of the 120 mm gun, achieved by increasing the chamber volume to 2.5 times that of the Leclerc gun. This adjustment ensures the necessary muzzle velocity to impart sufficient kinetic energy to the round. The ASCALON’s muzzle energy ranges from 17-20 MJ, delivering around 7-8 MJ to the target, compared to a 120 mm KE round’s 6 MJ. This energy level is sufficient to defeat modern MBTs like the T-90M and T-14, although the frontal arc armour remains a challenge.

The ASCALON system boasts considerable growth potential, particularly in terms of pressure increase, which would enhance muzzle velocity and kinetic energy on target. However, increased speed also means increased drag, necessitating improved aerodynamics for penetrators. Current penetrators have an aspect ratio (diameter to length) of 30-35, but Nexter is exploring higher aspect ratios to maintain higher energy upon impact. This requires careful study of internal and external ballistics, as vibration during flight and inside the barrel affects accuracy. The projectile mass is another variable influencing kinetic energy, and while depleted uranium provides only a marginal improvement over tungsten, it remains off the table for many European countries.

The ASCALON gun’s mass is around 3,000 kg, with a 7.3-meter length from breech to muzzle and a barrel length of 51-52 calibres. The version displayed at Eurosatory included many elements of the old FTMA gun, yet significant optimizations are underway. Various recoil brake configurations have been tested, with the pepperpot recoil brake proving effective. Nexter is also focused on rigidity to control oscillating modes and frequencies and balancing the weapon. The result is expected to be a weapon lighter than the current 120 mm L55, which weighs around 4,100 kg. The new gun is set for completion in early 2023, designed for integration into a 55-60 tonne MBT, the target mass for the MGCS.

While awaiting the new gun, Nexter has conducted several firing campaigns with the existing gun, including one that concluded just before the Paris exhibition. Another campaign is planned before the end of the year. These tests will inform the second phase of the programme, focusing on optimizing the concept for the future MGCS.

Barrel wear remains a concern, heavily dependent on the type of ammunition used. APFSDS rounds, with higher muzzle velocity, tend to wear the barrel more than full-bore rounds. The lack of precise requirements means some parameters, such as maximum elevation, are still under discussion with potential customers. This impacts BLOS fire missions and range, with an 8 km range being feasible but longer ranges requiring higher elevation and potentially ruling out remotely operated solutions.

The Leclerc automatic loader can hold 22 ready rounds, with 18 more in the chassis. The larger calibre of the 140 mm gun means its autoloader will likely hold fewer rounds, necessitating careful consideration of the ammunition mix. Missiles could be a solution for long-range indirect fire missions. The MBT within the MGCS, part of a “System,” may delegate some roles to accompanying armoured vehicles, manned or unmanned, with the MBT serving as the core of the system.

Nexter is set to start discussions with Rheinmetall, comparing their respective solutions and potentially arriving at a different calibre than currently proposed. The US Army’s direction remains a question mark, with imposing a new standard being risky. Cooperation seems the best path forward, though it might cause delays. The MGCS programme is already behind schedule, with the 2035 Initial Operational Capability being optimistic. Should everything go well, France and Germany might initially require around 500 tanks, a relatively small number to impose a new ammunition standard. ASCALON’s compatibility with current tank fleets might facilitate upgrades, potentially replacing the turret while maintaining existing mobility platforms, reducing acquisition and logistic costs.

The ongoing war in Ukraine has sparked debates about the relevance of tanks. While the damage caused by tanks has not been widely publicised, the defeat of older generation MBTs has been. Factors such as tactics, logistics, training, and motivation play crucial roles alongside technology. Eurosatory 2022 demonstrated that MBTs remain far from obsolete. The path to a European solution is complex, and the current conflict’s influence on the push towards heavy armoured vehicles and shared solutions remains to be seen.

KNDS (Krauss-Maffei Wegmann and Nexter Defense Systems)

KNDS (Krauss-Maffei Wegmann and Nexter Defense Systems) has made significant strides in the development of advanced combat systems with their recent completion of a test firing series for the 140mm ASCALON (Autoloading, SCALable, Overmatch, Large caliber, ONslaught) gun. This achievement underscores the applicability of the new gun design for both current and future main combat systems, particularly the Main Ground Combat System (MGCS). The tests demonstrated a quick and efficient transition from a 120mm barrel to a 140mm barrel in under one hour, showcasing the system’s adaptability and ease of maintenance.

ASCALON Gun Development and Testing

The ASCALON cannon and its ammunition have been presented by KNDS as a mature solution, reflecting years of rigorous testing and refinement. The three-year firing campaign, which began in May 2024, has highlighted the ASCALON’s excellent capabilities in both 120mm and 140mm barrels. The gun has been fired several hundred times, utilizing APFSDS (Armor-Piercing Fin-Stabilized Discarding Sabot) rounds, demonstrating consistent performance and reliability. These tests are set to continue through 2025, with a significant milestone anticipated in the form of firing tests from a Main Battle Tank (MBT).

Technical Specifications and Innovations

Barrel Flexibility and Design

One of the key innovations of the ASCALON gun is its ability to quickly switch between 120mm and 140mm barrels. This modularity allows for adaptability to different combat scenarios and the evolution of battlefield requirements. The ease of changing barrels within an hour significantly reduces downtime and increases operational readiness.


The ASCALON system utilizes advanced APFSDS rounds, which have shown high maturity levels during testing. These rounds are designed to penetrate modern armored threats effectively, providing a significant overmatch capability against current and anticipated enemy armor technologies.

Open Architecture

KNDS designed ASCALON with an open architecture, allowing it to serve as a foundation for the cooperative development of a combat gun platform within the MGCS framework. This approach ensures that the system can be easily upgraded and integrated with future technologies, maintaining its relevance and effectiveness in the evolving combat environment.

Performance and Growth Potential

ASCALON’s performance levels surpass those offered by current technologies, positioning it as a formidable component in future European tank gun and ammunition standards. The system’s design allows for significant growth potential, ensuring that it can accommodate advancements in gun and ammunition technologies over the coming decades.

Future Developments and Projections

The next crucial phase in ASCALON’s development is the integration of the gun system into a Main Battle Tank (MBT) for field testing, scheduled for 2025. This step will validate the gun’s performance in a real-world combat platform, providing invaluable data to refine and enhance the system further.

Main Ground Combat System (MGCS)

The MGCS program, a Franco-German initiative, aims to develop a next-generation combat vehicle to replace existing main battle tanks. The ASCALON gun is a central element of this program, providing the firepower and technological advancements needed to maintain superiority on the battlefield.

Projections and Market Impact

The successful integration and deployment of the ASCALON gun within the MGCS framework are expected to set a new standard for European main combat systems. This development will likely influence global defense markets, driving demand for similar adaptable and high-performance gun systems.

Comprehensive Data and Analysis

Test Firing Results

  • Number of Firings: Several hundred times across both 120mm and 140mm barrels.
  • Duration: Three-year campaign starting from May 2024, continuing through 2025.
  • Barrel Change Time: Less than one hour to switch from 120mm to 140mm barrel.

Performance Metrics

  • APFSDS Rounds: Demonstrated high penetration capabilities and maturity.
  • Reliability: Consistent performance with minimal maintenance requirements.

Technological Advancements

  • Modular Design: Quick barrel change and open architecture for future upgrades.
  • Integration Potential: Designed for seamless integration into the MGCS and other future combat platforms.

Strategic Implications

The development of the ASCALON gun represents a significant advancement in armored warfare technology. Its modularity, performance, and adaptability make it a critical component of future European and potentially global main combat systems. The collaborative approach within the MGCS framework ensures that the ASCALON will benefit from shared expertise and resources, further enhancing its capabilities and market potential.

The ASCALON gun by KNDS is poised to revolutionize main combat systems with its advanced design, robust performance, and adaptability. The ongoing tests and future integration into MBTs will solidify its role as a cornerstone of the MGCS program and beyond. As defense technologies continue to evolve, systems like ASCALON will be essential in maintaining strategic and tactical superiority on the modern battlefield.

Future Projections

The ASCALON gun’s development and successful integration into the MGCS will likely set a precedent for future tank gun designs. Its adaptable architecture and superior performance metrics will drive innovation in the defense sector, influencing the design and development of next-generation combat systems globally. The ASCALON’s impact on the defense industry will be profound, setting new benchmarks for gun system capabilities and operational efficiency.

Technical Data Summary

Parameter120mm Barrel140mm Barrel
Firing Campaign StartMay 2024May 2024
Number of FiringsSeveral hundred timesSeveral hundred times
APFSDS RoundsHigh penetration capabilityHigh penetration capability
Barrel Change TimeLess than one hourLess than one hour
Next Testing Phase2025 (MBT integration)2025 (MBT integration)

Market and Industry Impact

The ASCALON gun’s successful development and testing will have significant implications for the defense industry. The MGCS program, with ASCALON as a key component, is expected to drive demand for advanced gun systems and set new standards for main combat systems globally. This development will also influence defense procurement strategies, emphasizing the importance of modularity and adaptability in future combat platforms.

The ASCALON gun by KNDS exemplifies the future of main combat systems, combining cutting-edge technology with practical adaptability and robust performance. As the defense industry continues to evolve, the ASCALON will play a pivotal role in shaping the next generation of combat platforms, ensuring strategic and tactical advantages for European and global armed forces.

In conclusion, the ASCALON gun represents a significant leap forward in combat system technology, with its advanced features, robust performance, and adaptability setting new standards for future main combat systems. Its development and integration into the MGCS program underscore its critical role in shaping the future of armored warfare, ensuring that European and global armed forces maintain their strategic and tactical superiority on the battlefield.

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