The five advanced Heron-TP unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that Germany is leasing from Israel may come unarmed.
On December 15, the Social Democratic Party of Germany opposed buying weapons for the drones. A vote in the German parliament regarding the decision to buy weapons has been postponed with no new date set.
“The SDP has decided to oppose arming Bundeswehr’s Heron-TP UAVs for the time being,” the party’s defense policy spokesman Fritz Felgentreu, considered one of the biggest supporters of the move to arm the UAVs, tweeted the same night.
"The line between defending the lives of our soldiers and killing with a joystick is extremely thin,” SPD leader Norbert Walter-Borjans argued, supporting the decision.
Felgentreu has told Israeli publication Globes in the past that the German army needs the UAVs to help protect its combat soldiers on missions in Afghanistan and Mali. The drones may be armed in the future.
Brokered by Airbus, the deal covers leasing five UAVs built by Israel Aerospace Industries (and use of two more for training). It is worth nearly €1 billion over 10 years. 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.
The first Heron TP for Germany completed its first flight this July. The UAV was modified according to the requirements of the German Ministry of Defense (MoD) as per an agreement signed with the Israeli MoD in June 2018. 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 German Heron TP UAV is a medium altitude, long endurance, and multi-mission aircraft with a variety of payloads. It is based on the Israeli “Eitan” UAV, which is in operational use in the Israel Air Force. The German Heron TP UAV was modified in record time and incorporates advanced ‘blue-and-white’ [Israeli] technology.