In $1.18 billion deal, Germany leases drones from Israel

A nine-year plan to lease Israeli drones to the German army was approved by the Bundestag’s budgetary committee.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and the Israeli government won big in Berlin Wednesday when the German parliament’s budgetary committee approved its army’s plan to lease IAI’s newest Heron-TP surveillance drones for nine years – until a European drone is ready for the market.

According to the €1 billion (USD1.18 billion) deal for the unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, the IAI and Defense Ministry will provide training, logistics and infrastructure as well as manage “all aspects of the project, including operational support and maintenance,” as noted by IAI in a statement.

About 100 German soldiers will be trained in the Herons’ use at the Tel Nof Air Force Base in Israel, which houses one of the IDF’s UAV squadrons. Some of them have already reportedly begun practicing with the medium-altitude, long-endurance aircraft.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was openly pleased with the decision, which has been five years in the making – ever since the German army said it wanted to upgrade the Israeli UAVs it already had.

“This is an enormous contribution to the Israeli defense industry and the Israeli economy,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “This giant deal is an expression of the strategic cooperation between Germany and Israel and attests to the potential of the Israeli industry to contribute to countries like Germany.”

Seven UAVs have been leased in all; two for training and five for operational use in countries such as Africa and Afghanistan, where Germany currently has troops and has been using the Heron’s older brother with great success.

When Netanyahu met with Chancellor Angela Merkel last week, she made a point of praising the Israeli system, testifying that their  existing UAVs are “doing exceptional work for surveillance and intelligence needs in Mali.” The upgraded version is expected to provide even greater protection for their forces.

The deal has not been without controversy in Germany, however, as these drones can also be armed – something to which both the SPD, the junior party in Merkel’s coalition, and the Green party objected. The SPD withdrew its objection when their coalition agreement included the caveat that a future decision to arm the Herons would require another vote in Parliament “following a detailed assessment of the international law, German law, and ethical considerations.”

The Greens, however, voted against the agreement, pointing out that the contract already included money for preparing the UAVs for weapons.