The Bundestag has not yet decided on the armament of the new “Heron TP”. Nevertheless, the German Armed Forces have already set up a “Weapon System Support Team” for the drone and is developing curricula for the activators of the missiles; their training is to begin next year. Training will also take place in the USA.
In November, the first “Heron TP” is to be delivered to the German Bundeswehr and stationed at a military airport near Tel Aviv. The drone made its first flight in Israel on Sunday, reports the Jerusalem Post. Which airspace was flown over during the test, the newspaper does not write.
The German Ministry of Defense has ordered a total of five “Heron TP” from the armaments company Israel Aerospace Industries. In the case of simultaneous deployment in two mandate areas, the number of units could increase to seven, so that the training on the German drones, which is also taking place in Israel, does not have to be interrupted. At present, four German soldiers are being trained in Israel to control and command the “Heron TP”; a total of 35 teams of two persons each are to be qualified.
Course for armed drones is set
The “Heron TP” were ordered ready for armament, for the mounting points of laser-guided missiles and the necessary electronics the Ministry of Defence paid 50 million Euros, which sums purchase price up to 600 million Euros. Another 180 million are due for the stationing of the drones on an Israeli air force base and the training of German personnel.
Whether the option to arm the drones will be taken up, however, is still to be decided by the Bundestag.The ruling government, consisting of Social Democrats and Conservatives, has had corresponding plans for two legislatures, but according to the coalition agreement, the parties only want to decide on the combat drones “after detailed consideration of international, constitutional and ethical issues”.
The course for the German armed drones is set, however. More than two years ago, the Bundeswehr established a “Weapon System Support Team Unmanned Aerial Systems” (WaSysUstgT UAS) in Manching, Bavaria, the department has been operational since October 2018. Its task is to support the introduction of the new weapon. This includes operational testing and assessing whether the delivered “Heron TP” meets the requirements. The personnel in Manching will also cover “operational” issues, training courses will be held at a pilot school in the USA and Israel.
Job description “weapons system operator”
The Bundeswehr has introduced new career paths for its drone crews. The German Air Force uses “pilots” and “tactical operators” to steer the unmanned vehicle and operate cameras and other sensors. Once they have successfully completed their training, they bear the “Military Aircraft Pilot” badge.
The evaluation of sensor data, on the other hand, is carried out by specially trained aerial photography personnel, who can also work from Germany during missions.
If the Bundestag approves the procurement of armed drones, “weapon system operators” are added to these tasks. Even without a Bundestag decision, the Bundeswehr is preparing corresponding courses; from 2021, the training of missile personnel is planned. In the Bundeswehr they are referred to as “aircraft crew members”.
From 2028 the “Heron TP” is to be replaced by the “Eurodrone”. It is being built by Airbus Defence & Space and should be able to drop guided bombs as well as rockets. The Ministry of Defence is currently building a base in Jagel (Schleswig-Holstein) for the stationing of all large air force drones.
150,000 euros for “drone debate”
Now the federal government is in a hurry, apparently the decision on armament is imminent. The Ministry of Defense has therefore conducted a brief “drone debate” and submitted a report to the Bundestag, citing reasons for arming. The series of events consisted of some live chats and hearings, at which primarily members of the Bundeswehr and members of parliament were present. According to the Ministry of Defence, the five events cost 150,000 euros. It is unclear what the large sum was used for.
Before a Bundestag resolution on the introduction of combat drones, the SPD wants to hold its own hearing in the Bundestag. In two years, the armed “Heron TP” are to be ready for action. The Bundeswehr wants to fly the “Heron TP” in Afghanistan starting in 2021 and in Mali starting in 2024. Whether they will carry guided missiles there will be decided by the Bundestag for each mandate individually.
Image: The German “Heron TP” (Israeli Ministry of Defence).