Makers of Leclerc, Leopard tanks sign deal to merge, creating Franco-German defense champion

French and German executives from two of Europe's leading armored vehicle makers signed a long-awaited merger deal Wednesday aimed at creating a new European champion in the $50 billion annual terrestrial defense market.

The tie-up between France's state-owned Nexter Systems and privately held German firm KMW was inked in Paris at the Defense Ministry headquarters, with France's Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and German parliamentary state secretary for defense Markus Grubel taking part.

The deal still needs approvals in both countries and is expected to be finalized by December. The project, first announced a year ago, has gone by the code-name KANT but the actual name hasn't been chosen yet.

Nexter makes France's Leclerc tank and KMW produces the German army's Leopard 1 and 2 tanks.