COLOGNE, Germany — German lawmakers approved a government request this week to spend €1.2 billion ($1.3 billion) on a new short-range air defense capability based on a ground-launched variant of the Diehl Defence-made IRIS-T missile.

The money will pay for the integration of short- and medium-range interceptors on the Boxer vehicle, made by Rheinmetall and Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, as well as radar and command-and-control equipment by Hensoldt. The companies announced their partnership for the program in spring 2021.

Defense officials have long lamented a capability gap in the protection of deployed forces against drones, missiles and aircraft since the retirement of key air-defense platforms like the Roland missile tank and the Gepard cannon tank in 2005 and 2010, respectively.

A prototype of the new, interceptor-based capability is set to be finished by 2028, the German ministry of defense said in a Jan. 19 statement.

Later this year, the government also plans to buy a cannon-based weapon for shooting drones and other low-flying threats out of the sky. But unlike the Boxer/IRIS-T combination, that system will come without government development costs. Rheinmetall’s 30mm-caliber Skyranger is deemed the prospective system choice, with plans for a production line pending until a contract is signed.

Also in the works, under German navy auspices, is an interception technology by way of high-powered laser beams.

In clearing the funds on Jan. 17, lawmakers on the parliamentary budget committee requested an independent cost examination. The caveat follows a report by “Der Spiegel” in December that said the cost for the entire short-range defensive package had increased from €240 million to €1.3 billion.

A defense ministry spokesman told Defense News the reported cost increase amounted to “comparing apples to oranges.” That’s because the program, with its initial financial projections, was conceived in 2018, under a drastically different geopolitical and defense-industrial picture compared with today, the ministry spokesman said.

Since that year, the 2020 conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh spooked defense officials in Berlin because of the effective use of attack drones by Azerbaijan, leading to fears Germany’s arsenal would be ill-suited for similar threats. Russia’s war in Ukraine, which began in 2022, has further highlighted how drones, employed by the thousands, have become battle deciders in modern warfare, increasing the need for sophisticated defensive systems.

As a result, there is now a higher demand for counter-drone capabilities on the global arms market, leading to manufacturers charging higher prices, the spokesman said.

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.

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