The €1 billion deal for leasing UAVs made by Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. (IAI) (TASE: ARSP.B1) to the German army has been revived nine months after being almost terminated by the Bundestag (the German parliament in Berlin).
In the coming weeks or days, the German Ministry of Defense is set to request approval from the Bundestag budget allocations and defense committees for the budget for the plan to lease five IAI-made Heron-PT UAVs, reports US “Defense News."
Under the program, the UAVs will be stationed in Israel under the management of the military wing of Airbus, at least in the first stage. The UAVs are initially designated for intelligence missions, such as aerial photography and surveillance of enemy forces. At a later stage, they are also likely to be used to attack ground targets, including targeted killings.
This development is noteworthy, because last June, the Bundestag voted against then Minister of Defense Ursula von der Leyen's request for approval of the deal. The Social Democratic Party, one of Chancellor Angela Merkel coalition partners, led the opposition, despite the defense minister's statement that the Israeli UAVs were essential for national security.
The expected Bundestag debate is now possible because the Social Democratic Party has now withdrawn its opposition in principle to the deal. The party's opposition to the UAV plan resulted from the moral distaste on the part of many Germans to the German army following the example of the US army in Iraq by bombing ground targets and killing innocent civilians. The Social Democratic lawmakers said at the time that legal and military issues resulting from the use of armed UAVs had not yet been resolved.
Much has happened since that time; new elections were held in Germany, the Social Democratic Party returned to Merkel's coalition, and its opposition to the deal has weakened. German soldiers are now stationed in quite a few combat zones around the world, including Afghanistan. Those who favor the deal, including among the Social Democrats, argue that the absence of UAV intelligence and attack capabilities is exposing German soldiers in these zones to unnecessary risks.
"Defense News” says that sources in Berlin expect the German Ministry of Defense's request for approval of the UAV deal to be approved. Government sources who favor the deal are stressing the argument that Germany's friendship with Israel should guide the decision-making process, and this consideration carries weight in the Bundestag.
In the first stage, the government is asking for money to be allocated to lease the UAVs and their sensor systems. In the next stage, a request for a budget allocation for buying the armament systems for UAVs will be raised for discussion.
Despite last year's defeat in the Bundestag, the German Ministry of Defense did not give up on the plan, and the UAVs remained a high priority for the Merkel government, according to a “Defense News” report at the time. “The need (for UAVS) still exists,” a ministerial spokesperson told the periodical. He emphasized that the armed UAVs would be used only for defense of German soldiers in exposed to real and immediate risk, not as a means of targeted killings, a purpose for which they are customarily used by the US army.
The spokesperson noted, however, that leasing unarmed UAVs would not justify an investment of over $1 billion in the project. The government believes that the attack capabilities of the Israeli UAVs constitute “added value” for the high price of leasing them, according to the spokesperson.
An announcement published by the Minister of Defense in early 2016 stated that the IAI UAVs were intended to protect German soldiers stationed overseas, The German army used small UAVs from the earlier version of the Heron in Afghanistan, to the satisfaction of those who used the in the field. The announcement noted that the Israeli UAVs would be used as a bridge between 2018 and 2025, when Germany, France, Italy, and Spain would begin making all-European UAVs,
Under the original plan, Airbus was to have operated the UAVs. In the first stage, they are to be stationed in Israel in order to train the teams. At a later stage, they will be placed in a base in northern Germany. In the event of registration problems, however, they can be stationed in Israel for a prolonged period.
On January 13, “Defense News” quoted Bundestag sources as saying that the main reason for the Germans' selection of the Heron was Israel's willingness to allow German extensive access to its technology. “All of the technological information we are likely to need has been promised to us,” a source described as knowledgeable told the weekly. The source added that the Israelis had notified the Germans that they would be able to use the Heron's technology in order to develop an all-European UAV.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on April 8, 2018
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