COLOGNE, Germany — After lawmakers spurned government plans to lease a handful of armed drones from Israel, ministry of defense officials have no choice but to let the topic rest until after national elections in late September.
But the issue remains a priority for the agency led by Ursula von der Leyen, Chancellor Angela Merkel's defense minister. "The requirement still exists," a spokesman told Defense News on July 5, arguing that the airborne weapons would be used only to protect German troops in "immediate, real danger," not as instruments of targeted killings in the style of U.S. forces.
The Bundestag's appropriations committee in late June, at the behest of the Social Democratic Party, or SPD, rejected a proposal to lease five Heron TP drones from Israel Aerospace Industries at a cost reportedly around €1 billion (U.S. $1.1 billion). An approval would have been the only chance for the government to get a deal in place for the aircraft before the Sept. 24 election, which could lead to a reshaping of defense priorities.
The SPD lawmakers opposing the leasing arrangement argued that military and legal questions surrounding the use of armed drones by Germany had yet to be resolved. At the same time, they still were in favor of a surveillance-only drone, Thomas Oppenheimer, leader of the SPD Bundestag faction, stressed.
An unarmed reconnaissance drone, however, hardly would be worth the investment of €1 billion, the defense ministry argues. In the government's view, the offensive capability represents the "added value" that comes with the hefty price tag, the spokesman said.
Regardless of who wins the election in the fall, the topic of armed drones is sure to come up again. Recent polls see Merkel's Christian Democratic Union leading the race against the SPD and its top candidate for chancellor, Martin Schulz, by roughly 15 percentage points.
Von der Leyen's plan for the Heron TP drones envisioned Airbus operating five aircraft stationed in Israel. The drones would carry the Jedi missiles, which include an option for scalable explosive power, Spiegel Online reported last month.
Sebastian Sprenger is associate editor for Europe at Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multi-national investments in defense and global security. Previously he served as managing editor for Defense News. He is based in Cologne, Germany.