Germany’s armed forces have until now only been allowed to deploy unarmed drones for reconnaissance purposes, leaving other allies to use weaponised unmanned combat aerial vehicles in the field.
Non-weaponised drones were approved by parliament in 2018, but a plan to equip them with arms was put on ice after strong opposition from the Social Democrats, then junior partners in former chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition.
But the devices have come back on the military’s shopping list as Chancellor Olaf Scholz, himself a Social Democrat, announced a massive spending spree to equip Germany militarily after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s offensive in Ukraine.
On Wednesday, the parliamentary defence committee approved the purchase of 140 Heron TP armed drones from Israel in a contract worth 152.6 million euros ($165 million), sources said.
The drones are expected to be delivered within two years, with 60 of them to be used for training purposes while the remaining 80 will be used for “operational deployment”.
“The security situation in Europe has essentially changed with the attack of Russia on Ukraine,” the defence ministry said in a position paper put to the parliamentary committee and seen by AFP.
“In order to counter the new threat, the Bundeswehr’s equipment must be upgraded without delay, including in particular the arming of the Heron drones.
“The need is absolutely necessary because serious state interests of a political nature would be otherwise compromised and this is not acceptable.”
Germany’s army has been suffering from underinvestment over the years.
Defence commissioner Eva Högl’s latest report of the state of the military had underlined a litany of equipment issues – from the majority of combat vehicles, naval ships and fighter jets in disrepair to a woeful lack of newer generation arms like rifles or even parachutes.
Scholz had announced in a landmark speech three days after Russian troops marched into Ukraine that Germany would set aside a special budget of 100 billion euros for the military, as well as plough more than two percent of its output on defence annually.
Since then frantic negotiations have been ongoing to close huge defence deals, including a purchase of up to 35 F-35 fighter jets from the United States and 15 Eurofighter jets from a consortium that includes Airbus.
Germany is also looking at acquiring an anti-missile shield system dubbed the Iron Dome from Israel. The Arrow 3 system, costing around two billion euros, is powerful enough to offer protective cover for neighbouring EU nations.