Joint exercise in Israel: German Luftwaffe take part in training with armed drones for the first time

Soldiers from four NATO countries have exercised with the Israeli Air Force in the use of „live-fire munitions“ with drones. A German squadron took over the reconnaissance. All drones ordered by the Bundeswehr in Israel are to be delivered this month. The new Bundestag will decide on their armament.

Before the German Air Force has armed drones at its disposal, it needs a corresponding Bundestag decision. Their „Heron TP“ ordered in Israel will therefore remain unarmed for the time being. The Bundeswehr also wanted to refrain from training with an armed version of these long-range drones – provided, for example, by the Israeli trainers – until a positive vote by the members of parliament. This was the assurance given by the Ministry of Defence in its answer to earlier parliamentary questions.

In July, however, German pilots took part in at least one such training on an Israeli firing range. Under the name „Blue Guardian“, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) had for the first time organised a ten-day drone exercise at the Palmachim base south of Tel Aviv. In addition to the Bundeswehr, units from the USA, Great Britain, France and Italy took part. All four countries have combat drones or want to arm them quickly, as in the case of Italy.

„Combat-proven“ aircraft

During the exercise, two „Hermes 450“ drones from the Israeli company Elbit were flown, one of which by the German Tactical Air Force Squadron „Immelmann“ from Schleswig-Holstein. This drone took over the „reconnaissance mission“ for the rehearsed armed combat, according to the answer to a parliamentary question. The target was then bombed with „drop munitions in real flight“ by a combat drone. Who controlled this remains open.

The „Hermes 450“ flown in the exercise has been in service with the Israeli Air Force for over 20 years and is marketed by the manufacturer as „combat-proven“. It can also be used for reconnaissance or to intercept and jam communications. The drone has a flight time of 17 hours and a maximum altitude of around 6,000 metres.

In addition to the „Hermes 450“, the larger „Hermes 900“ model was also on display. The Israeli Air Force furthermore provided the „Heron TP“ manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). Various fighter planes and helicopters were also used.

80% of all missions with drones

The aim of „Blue Guardian“ was to have the foreign drone pilots cooperate with other manned and unmanned aircraft of the IAF. In this way, Israel’s government wants to facilitate the integration of its units into NATO’s international military missions.

This was confirmed by German Parliamentary State Secretary Thomas Silberhorn, who said that training had been given to improve the interaction of drones from the participating air forces in a „multinational environment“. The exercise was observed by 20 representatives from other, though unnamed, countries, according to the Jerusalem Post.

Drones are playing an increasingly important role in Israel’s air force, according to the media report. The unmanned aircraft account for at least 80% of all flights. A few weeks before the international training, the Israeli military used combat drones in 643 missions in the Gaza Strip in the multi-day operation „Guardian of the Walls“, most of the launches were from the base in Palmahim.

SPD, FDP and Greens pro arming drones?

According to the German Defence Ministry, Israel is considering continuing the exercise as a series. As early as next time, it would be possible for the Bundeswehr to participate in „Blue Guardian“ with its own drones. All five „Heron TP“ drones intended for the air force are to be operational by 30 October. The Israeli certification of the German aircraft is also to be completed this month.

They will be stationed at the base in Tel Nof, only 30 kilometres from Parmachim. In November, the training of the crews will begin there; the Israeli Air Force has set up a corresponding cooperation under the name „Red Baron“ for this purpose.

Depending on the outcome of the coalition negotiations, the Bundestag could also soon decide to arm the German „Heron TP“. Most SPD deputies in the last legislature had spoken out in favour of this despite opposition from the party base; a joint „yes“ with the CDU/CSU failed at the last metres due to reservations on the part of party leader Norbert Walter-Borjans. The FDP had spoken out in favour several times in recent years. Among the Greens, the long-standing headwind is crumbling; at an online party conference, a motion in favour of the procurement of combat drones recently only narrowly missed a majority.

Image: IDF.

Autor: Matthias Monroy

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