September 03, 2012
Credit: Credit: IAI
Germany's future UAV capabilities have been hanging in the balance for some time, but the German defense ministry says the period of uncertainty will be over soon. A decision on the short- to medium-term plan is due by the end of the third quarter.
German armed forces have been using Israel Aerospace Industries' (IAI) Heron-1 UAV. A lease for three units has been extended by two years, until October 2014. The Bundeswehr is now looking at how to replace the Heron-1 for an interim period until around 2020, which is when a European UAV might be available.
The defense ministry has asked General Atomics for a Predator B offer, but has not made the same request to IAI, which would like to pitch the Heron TP. Sources in Israel's defense establishment nevertheless claim that the Bundeswehr is close to choosing the TP, with formal negotiations on the sale to take place soon.
Government sources in Berlin say that the request for a Predator B offer should not be considered an accurate indication of where things are headed. A further extension of the Heron 1 lease is also a possibility, one source claims.
The need for a large aircraft with flexible potential is considered an urgent requirement for the Bundeswehr's contingency plans. The German forces deployed in Afghanistan are already making use of the Heron-1, as a result of an between IAI and Germany's Rheinmetall Defense.
IAI executives are optimistic that the recent decision from the French defense ministry in favor of acquiring the Heron TP will encourage other nations in Europe—primarily Germany—to buy the aircraft. IAI's Heron, also named “Eitan” by the Israel Defense Forces, is the largest UAV manufactured in Israel, with a wingspan similar to that of a Boeing 737.
German Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière is the main proponent for the acquisition of a large UAV for the Bundeswehr. The longer-term perspectives for a joint European UAV project are unclear, following the recent cancellation of the Talarion.
David Eshel Tel Aviv and Jens Flottau Berlin