Iron will for unmanned air strikes

The German Bundeswehr discussed with members of parliament about the use of armed drones, but did not talk about their missiles

The German Ministry of Defense has ended its „drone debate“ and submitted a report to the Bundestag with arguments for arming the ordered Israeli „Heron TP“. Thus, only a Bundestag decision is now standing in the way of the procurement. This was preceded by a largely virtual series of events in the military Bendlerblock and in the Bundestag, at which above all supporters of the German drone programme had their say.

In practice, the Bundeswehr has hardly presented any new arguments. For example, the drones would not fight like robots, humans always decide as „man in the middle“ on the use of weapons. The Bundeswehr sees their procurement allowed according to international and constitutional law. Remote-controlled weapons would be thus no different from fighter planes. According to the Bundeswehr, due to their long service life, drones involve several „decision-making levels“, which helps to avoid „wrong decisions“. The German Armed Forces want to attack only legitimate military targets, and „extrajudicial killings“ are explained to be beyond the Bundeswehr’s tradition.

At one point, the Ministry of Defence mentions the „operational practice of other states“ and distances itself from it. The elephant in the room, as is well known, is the USA, which has armed drones kill on the territory of other states, even on behalf of its secret services, and controls them with the knowledge of the German government via a relay station in Ramstein, Germany.

The Bundeswehr wants to counter the fact that the inhibition threshold for the use of military force with remote-controlled weapons is decreasing with a promise of German drone pilots. They are thus „very well aware“ of the importance of their actions. However, opponents of armed drones can hardly rely on that. For only a few paragraphs later, the report describes the rage of the air force, which has so far only been allowed to observe military operations with reconnaissance drones and is „condemned to watch“ due to the lack of armament. Therefore armed „Heron TP“ are supposed to patrol the area of operations, deter with their constant presence and strike if necessary. The indication that allies either have no combat drones at their disposal or that they are „often tied to other places in the area of operations“ shows the absolute will to carry out unmanned air strikes.

It is technically possible to control the „Heron TP“ from Germany via satellite. However, the Bundeswehr should generally handle this within the area of operations. With this, the Ministry of Defense is accommodating his coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), which has spoken out sometimes in favor of, sometimes against armed drones over the past six years. At the end of June, the deputy leader of the SPD parliamentary group, Gabriela Heinrich, finally gave the green light, and shortly thereafter the responsible members of the defense committee delivered „conditions“. These even fall short of the assurances given by the Bundeswehr: no fully automated drones and no extrajudicial executions.

The outcome of the „drone debate“ was as predictable as the SPD’s toppling over. The only thing that remains to be said is that the most important point has been left out: the mysterious armament with which the Bundeswehr claims to „protect the civilian population in complex and urban combat situations“. This miracle weapon, which can not only kill but also save human lives, may not be spoken about in respect of the Israeli government. As the only missile in the world, it is said to be able to reduce or increase its lethal effect and to stop an attack completely, for example when new intelligence becomes available on the ground. Whether these „effectors“ are really so precise and can still be adjusted after firing cannot be verified in view of the secrecy.

The SPD wants to hold a very last hearing in the Bundestag before passing a resolution. Afterwards, the coalition could present the bill for purchase. After the procurement, certification and testing of the missiles, the German armed drones would then be ready for deployment in two years.

Autor: Matthias Monroy

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