The German Defense Ministry has started an Expert Hearing that includes several representatives of civil society along with members of parliamentary parties to discuss whether the drones should be purchased. The aim, the ministry says, is to trigger a “broad social debate” and lead into a long consultation period.
The topic of armed drones is a controversial one in German politics, with several politicians rejecting their use on ethical grounds. It is also a possibly divisive issue within Germany’s grand coalition of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU/CSU bloc and the leftist Social Democrats (SPD).
In December, Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer had recommended adding drones to the Bundeswehr’s arsenal during a trip to Afghanistan, where Germany has deployed troops in a training and support mission for local security forces.
“If I’m to take the troops’ wishes on board, and honestly I can understand them, then much speaks in favor of arming drones,” Kramp-Karrenbauer said. “Here you have to seriously ask whether we are really willing not to deploy all the options that are available to us, bearing in mind that soldiers’ lives are at stake.”
Germany’s army should purchase armed drones to protect patrols in conflict areas, the outgoing parliamentary commissioner for the armed forces has said.
Such drones could act as “rapid close air support” and are perhaps “better in emergencies than waiting for a requested combat helicopter or fighter bomber,” Hans-Peter Bartels told Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland (RND) in comments published on Monday.
But Bartels said no one in Germany wanted to adopt the “American use of armed drones for targeted killings.”
For Nora Müller of the Körber Foundation, who will moderate the discussion and is therefore keen not to voice her opinion on the policy, the delayed discussion — held up by around two months by the coronavirus lockdown ± is overdue.
“Crises and conflicts have not been put on ice just because of the coronavirus pandemic” Müller said, adding that Germany has long needed renewed debate on what military and security measures it is willing to use. “And that involves the debate on using armed drones.”
Meanwhile the German Press Agency (DPA) has reported that the German army plans to operate a fleet of Israeli-made Heron TP drones in Afghanistan and Mali from 2021,
The German government said the new model will join its fleet of drones in Afghanistan in 2021 and in Mali in 2024.
The German army already flies three Israeli-made middle-sized Heron 1 surveillance aircrafts in Afghanistan as part of the NATO Resolute Support mission and another three aircrafts within the United Nations MINUSMA mission in Mali.
Heron 1 has a wingspan of 16.6 metres making it too small to be equipped with weapons.
However, the advanced Heron TP model has a wingspan of 26 metres allowing it to be equipped with weapons, stay longer in the air and deliver images with higher resolution.