The German army will not arm the advanced Heron-TP drones (unmanned aerial vehicles - UAVs) that it is leasing from Israel with missiles due to opposition from ruling coalition partner the Social Democratic Party (SPD). A vote in the German parliament on whether to arm the Israeli-made UAVs has been postponed with no new date set because of the SDP's opposition. The SDP opposes arming the drones with missiles for moral reasons because it "distances the battlefield from fighters" and may cause, "a light hand on the trigger."
SPD defense policy spokesman Fritz Felgentreu tweeted last night, "The SDP has decided to oppose arming the UAVs at this present time, but to open public discussions and open up the issue."
Felgentreu is considered one of the biggest supporters of the move to arm the UAVs, which was separated from the actual procurement of the UAVs due to previous opposition within the SPD, which caused him to resign over the issue. Felgentreu has told "Globes" in the past that the German army needs the Israeli UAVs to help protect its combat soldiers on missions in Afghanistan and Mali.
In the past few years the SDP has presented an inconsistent policy regarding the UAV deal between the German army and the Israeli government and Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. (IAI) (TASE: ARSP.B1). The deal, brokered by Airbus, for leasing five UAVs (and use of two more for training) is worth nearly €1 billion over 10 years.
In 2017, the SDP torpedoed the entire deal but after it was agreed to separate out the missile arming clause, which would then be subject to parliamentary approval, the procurement went ahead. A German army squadron called the Red Baron is currently training in Israel at the Tel Nof air base in how to operate the unarmed UAVs.
The senior partner in the ruling coalition, Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has been pushing over the past year to arm the UAVs for "urgent operations" and it seemed like a deal had been agreed with the SDP leaders but a change of leadership within the party has led to second thoughts. Now with parliamentary elections scheduled for 2021, it looks like the issue won't come up for debate over the next year.
According to budgetary documents, the arming of the UAVs with missiles would have cost €132 million over the next five years and €25 million had already been allocated for the matter. No details of who would have manufactured the missiles for the Heron-TP have been provided but it would in all likelihood have been an Israeli defense company.
Sources in Israel's defense industry said that even if the decision to arm the Heron-TP has been postponed for now, it could be decided to arm the drones in the future.
Israel's Ministry of Defense declined to comment on the matter.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on December 16, 2020
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