The federal government has said goodbye to plans to purchase additional espionage drones for NATO as a “national provision”. The Ministry of Defense recently announced this in response to a parliamentary request for participation in the Alliance Ground Surveillance program. In 2012, after the NATO summit in Chicago, it was still said that the German Armed Forces wanted to buy four drones of the so-called HALE class, i.e. those that are as big and fly as high as passenger planes. This would have almost doubled the fleet of NATO spy drones. In Chicago, eight years ago, the military alliance agreed to station five high-flying “Global Hawk” in Sicily and operate them together. They are equipped with imaging surveillance technology, with which NATO wants to investigate military activities on the ground. The program, which cost around 1.5 billion euros, is now about to be operational. Almost a quarter of the staff comes from the Bundeswehr, including 14 drone pilots. The US Air Force also flies two “Global Hawk” in Sicily; they only spy against Russia. The entire drone program is subordinate to the NATO command in Ramstein.
But nothing will come of the “national provision”. If it had been up to then Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière (CDU), Germany would have begun to rise to a drone power in 2012. In the end, his plans remained deadlocks, which caused huge holes in the federal budget. Initially, the “Euro Hawk” project failed, in which the Bundeswehr wanted to equip several high-flying drones with a bugging module. The aircraft could not be registered in Germany, the waste of several hundred million euros would have almost cost the minister his post. A similar fate would have threatened the planned NATO provision. Because there are currently no HALE drones that are eligible for approval in Germany.
With the »Euro drone«, however, one of de Maizière’s projects could survive. The minister himself had campaigned for the EU drone from 2012 at the request of the then Airbus boss. In a few weeks, the Bundestag should decide on series production. They would then be stationed at the Jagel Air Force Base in Schleswig-Holstein from 2028. The “Euro drone” is to be armed, and until it is delivered the Bundeswehr will be flying drones from Israel as an interim solution. The SPD did not want to go along with their arming without resistance and received the accusation from the defense policy spokesman of the coalition partner that this was a stab in the back. As a consequence, the Social Democrats would now have to prevent the production of the armed “euro drone”. That would be the funeral of de Maizière’s third drone project.