Spy drone „Euro Hawk“: German government sells parts to NATO

The Bundeswehr hands over devices and instruments of the mothballed „Euro Hawk“ to NATO. It is still unclear what will happen to the aircraft itself and the ground stations. Canada withdrew its buying interest, now the US government could step in.

The German Ministry of Defence has started selling parts of the „Euro Hawk“. Spare parts, special tools and testing equipment for the maintenance of the drone are now being sold to NATO. State Secretary Thomas Silberhorn reported on a corresponding agreement yesterday during Question Time in the Bundestag. Originally, the German government had planned to sell the entire „Euro Hawk“ system to NATO.

The „Euro Hawk“ is based on the almost identical „Global Hawk“ of the US armaments manufacturer Northrop Grumman. Originally, several „Euro Hawks“ were to transport a spy system built by Airbus Defence and Space for the German Armed Forces that could intercept any radio communication or electromagnetic radiation. Due to certification problems, the project did not go beyond the delivery of a prototype. In 2013, the then Defence Minister Thomas de Maizière pulled the ripcord and the drone is now stored at the Bundeswehr site in Manching.

Purchase price remains secret

The devices sold from Germany could be used by NATO for its own „Alliance Ground Surveillance“ drone programme. For this purpose, the member states station five „Global Hawk“ at the Italian Air Force base in Sigonella, Sicily. The handover of the first drone had been delayed for several years, but according to media reports it is imminent. With the help of the US Air Force, the Italian aviation authority issued a certificate to enable the „Global Hawk“ to fly in civil and military airspace. The Bundeswehr also provides pilots and personnel for this purpose, a total of 132 soldiers will be stationed in Sicily.

The price NATO pays for the individual parts of the „Euro Hawk“ remains secret. Thus, the losses for the termination of the German drone project cannot be quantified. So far, the German government has paid more than 700 million euros for the „Euro Hawk“. The expenses also include 275.7 million euros for the interception system, and the procurement of two additional systems should cost 28.6 million euros each, according to the Ministry of Defence.

Who buys the drone?

The Ministry of Defence has still not found a buyer for the aircraft itself and the associated ground stations. Because the „Euro Hawk“ is a sensitive armament device, the Bundeswehr had to agree to an American „demilitarization“. The US military has meanwhile dismantled many parts, including radios, navigation devices, flight guidance computers and encryption systems, and software has also been uninstalled.

What revenues the Bundeswehr will receive from this „demilitarisation“ is still unclear and will depend on who finally acquires the „Euro Hawk“. It is possible that the safety-critical accessories will also be reinstalled after the US government has approved a sale.

Inspection in Manching

Parallel to NATO, the German government had also conducted „in-depth negotiations“ with Canada. However, the Canadian government had already broken off these talks in spring. This, too, only became known after yesterday’s reply by the State Secretary in the Bundestag.

Two months later, however, the government in Washington „signalled“ its interest in the „Euro Hawk“ and its ground stations. This year the US Air Force wants to visit the mothballed prototype in Manching and then „decide on their buying interest“.

If the government cannot sell the „Euro Hakw“ in the end, the drone could still find a „museum use“. This was brought into play last year by the Ministry of Defense. If there is no use for it either, the ministry calls the last option „scrapping“.

Image: The „Euro Hawk“ in Manching (Maximilian Schönherr, CC BY-SA 3.0).

Autor: Matthias Monroy

Knowledge worker, activist, editor of the German civil rights journal Bürgerrechte & Polizei/CILIP.