German Social Democrats tip the scales against arming Heron TP drones – but now the „Eurodrones“ are coming

The arming of Israeli drones has been stopped for now, but in coming months the Bundestag will vote on whether to approve purchase of 21 „Eurodrones“.

Since 2010, the German Armed Forces have been flying unarmed drones of the type „Heron 1“ in Afghanistan, and since 2016 also in Mali. They come from an Israeli defence company, the main contractor is Airbus with its German branch in Ottobrunn. From 2021, the successor model „Heron TP“ is to be available, which the Bundeswehr wants to arm.

These plans are now off the table for the time being. Actually, the budget committee was supposed to decide tomorrow on the purchase of missiles for the „Heron TP“. At the request of Social Democratic Party (SPD) defence policy spokesman Fritz Felgentreu and with endorsement of the parliamentary group leader Rolf Mützenich, the Ministry of Defence had prepared a corresponding draft resolution in November. The SPD forms the current government together with Christian Democrats.

However, Felgentreu and Mützenich had failed to understand the strong opposition in their own party on the issue. Delegates from state parliaments and also from the Bundestag as well as numerous SPD members have taken a clear position against the killer drones with an open letter, a resolution and clear votes at two state party conferences.

The critical voices were supported by two former members of the US drone programme, Lisa Ling and Cian Westmoreland, who addressed their arguments in a letter to the Social Democratic members of the Bundestag. Then last week, Norbert Walter-Borjans, the federal SPD leader, spoke out, saying that the debate on combat drones so far was „not sufficient“. In response, the SPD Minister of Finance, Olaf Scholz, decided not to pass on a so-called 25 million bill to the budget committee.

This does not mean that the arming of the „Heron TP“ is off the table, but only postponed. Presumably, the  parties making up the current government coalition prefer to avoid discussing the issue again before the Bundestag elections.

Soon, however, there will be another vote on armed drones in the Bundestag. For at the beginning of the year, the German government wants to sign a contract with three other governments for the development of a „Eurodrone“. Airbus is once again the main contractor, with final production to take place at the Manching site in Bavaria. Italy and France are also involved in the project with the companies Dassault Aviation and Leonardo. Spain is the fourth government that has joined the project.

In November, the participating states and defence companies negotiated the contract for the „Eurodrone“. Now the governments must initiate the usual national procurement process. In Germany, the budget committee must therefore decide upon this. The total costs for the German „Eurodrones“ are not yet known; for 2021, the Ministry of Defence estimates 232 million euros for this.

With the formal signing of the contract, 60 „Eurodrones“ will initially be produced for those states that have started the programme. The German Ministry of Defence has ordered 21 aircraft. 15 more are planned for Italy, 12 each will be delivered to Spain and France. The states had defined their requirements in a definition study. With a maximum take-off weight of about 11 tonnes, it should be able to transport a payload of 2.3 tonnes. This makes the „Eurodrohne“ one of the largest unmanned aerial vehicles being built worldwide.

After the European Commission provided „start-up funding“ of 100 million euros for the development through the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), the Czech Republic has also signalled interest in the „Eurodrone“. The countries considered „observers“ are Portugal, Belgium, Finland, Hungary, the Netherlands and Poland.

A first flight of the „Eurodrone“ is targeted for 2025, and deliveries are to begin in 2028, initially to the German Armed Forces. They will then be stationed at Jagel Air Base, a German base in the northernmost state of Schleswig-Holstein.

Image: DeffiSK, EuroMALE ILA 2018 (01), CC BY-SA 4.0.

Autor: Matthias Monroy

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

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