Ahead of an address in parliament on Wednesday, Minister von der Leyen told the Süddeutsche Zeitung: “I am convinced that we should develop a European armed drone. We’re looking for partners for the project which will take at least a decade.”
But some of the Social Democrats (SPD), who are in a coalition government with von der Leyen’s party, are sceptical.
SPD defence policy spokesman Rainer Arnold supported von der Leyen's pro-drone position, others have rejected the proposal.
"I personally have big problems with [the suggestion]," said head of the SPD parliamentary fraction Christine Lambrecht. "I'm not of the opinion that equipping the military in this way would be correct."
Gregor Gysi, parliamentary leader of the leftist Die Linke, reacted to the comments by calling for a “broad resistance” against armed drones.
And economist Tobias Lindner of the Green Party accused von der Leyen of “contempt of parliament” for telling the newspaper about her plans prior to addressing politicians on Wednesday afternoon.
The German military has long called for combat drones, arguing it will protect the lives of their soldiers.
The defence minister said Germany would initially hire armed drones for specific operations abroad.
By leasing drones rather than buying them, the military would get around the legal barrier which had previously scuppered plans to use Euro Hawk armed drones – they wouldn’t need approval in German airspace.
But von der Leyen wants Germany to have its own combat drones in the medium and longer term.
Leading European aerospace firms Airbus, Dassault Aviation and Alenia Aermacchi in May launched a lobbying drive for a European combat drone.
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"Europe’s industry is ready to develop a next generation advanced European Unmanned Aerial System (UAS)," they said in a joint press release.
The German military has used Israeli reconnaissance drones called Heron 1 in Afghanistan, but they are too small to carry weapons.
SEE ALSO: Armed drone debate divides Germany