COLOGNE, Germany – With the number of German major weapon programs at a new high, three Bundeswehr drone projects are up for critical milestones in the coming months, the defense ministry told parliament in a new report.
The government’s newest biannual snapshot of big-ticket investments follows a series of critical assessments about the state of some of the Bundeswehr’s equipment. Leaders have responded that the problems go back to chronic underfunding over the course of many years, a trend that they seek to reverse with an uptick in defense spending.
In the field of unmanned aircraft, the new government led by Chancellor Angela Merkel will soon have to determine the fate of the weapons-capable “German Heron TP.” The defense ministry wants to lease five of the Israel Aerospace Industries-made drones, with Airbus Defence and Space operating them out of Israel in support of German forces.
The deal fell through after key members of parliament pulled their support last summer, leaving the issue to be sorted out after the election. According to the new MoD report, that delay has caused the cost of an industry contract to go climb to €720 million (U.S. $886 million) – plus €177 million (U.S. $218 million) for a support agreement with Israel.
Advocates for the German Heron TP can be expected to push parliamentary consideration of the project soon, as the terms of the deal with industry are good only through the end of May, the report notes. Given many Germans’ reservations about armed drones in the Bundeswehr, defense officials are expected to seek Bundestag approval for the weapons separately from the aircraft itself.
Also this spring, the multinational Eurodrone is set to move forward with the issuing of an industry solicitation. The participating nations German, France, Italy and Spain already already have Airbus Defence and Space, Dassault Aviation and Finmeccanica, now Leonardo, on tap to study design options.
An eventual contract is set to be in place next year. Delivery of the drones to the nations’ armed forces is eyed for 2025. The envisioned Eurodrones are medium-altitude, long-endurance aircraft for reconnaissance and combat.
The German defense ministry has talked up business opportunities for domestic companies arising from the Eurodrone. “Germany leads this project both on the government and industry side, which is why decisive innovation in unmanned aviation technology will come from Germany,” officials wrote in the weapons report.
“The success of this project lays the foundation for a prominent position for German industry in future armament cooperations,” the document adds.
This summer, German officials expect to hear back from the U.S. Navy on a request to buy three MQ-4C Triton surveillance drones through the foreign military sales route, according to ministry officials. The Northrop Grumman-made aircraft are slated to carry the Airbus “ISIS-ZB” signals-intelligence sensor, meant initially for deployment on the Euro Hawk aircraft.
That program was canceled because officials were unable to gain the required safety clearances for operation in European airspace. German officials believe that the Triton will be easier to certify, given the U.S. Navy’s prior work on the subject.
“Pegasus,” as the combination of Triton and the German sensor is named, aims to capture enemy communications and detect radar emissions.
The U.S. sea service is expected to respond to the German request with a “letter of offer and acceptance” in July, according to the defense ministry report.
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.