A Bundeswehr Heron 1 reconnaissance UAV in Gao, Mali (Bundeswehr/ J. Heyn)

German Government Agrees On Drone Munition Procurement

Germany’s coalition government has agreed to the procurement of missiles for Germany’s fleet of Heron-TP unmanned aerial vehicles, ahead of a meeting of the German parliament’s military budget committee.

The Suddeutsche Zeitung reports that the German government’s component parties have agreed to budget 152 million euros for the procurement of 140 missiles for the Heron-TPs. 60 missiles are designated for training use, with the remaining 80 to be used on operational deployments. Budget committee member Karsten Klein of the Free Democratic Party told the Suddeutsche Zeitung that the government was aware of its “responsibility towards our soldiers”, which drove the decision to move ahead with procurement.

However, a draft budget resolution viewed by the Suddeutsche Zeitung would impose significant legal requirements for the operational use of armed drones alongside approving munitions procurement, with their use on deployment needing to be “explicitly” approved by parliament. Their use will be subject to “international and constitutional law limits as well as the limits mandated by the German Bundestag through the mission mandate, the area of operation and the capabilities to be deployed”, with a guiding principle of the “protection of soldiers”. Additionally, drone operators are to be stationed in the area of drone operations. The resolution also requires Berlin to draft “binding operational principles” for armed drone use, which are to be approved by both the defense and foreign affairs committees.

The current German government had included the approval of arming German unmanned aerial vehicles as part of its coalition agreement. While the previous German government had approved the procurement of the Heron-TP fleet, it was unable to move forward with arming them, as support from Social Democratic Party lawmakers failed to materialize over concerns about armed drone use. As a result, German drone use has remained strictly limited to the reconnaissance role, despite pressure from the Bundeswehr to approve the use of armed drones to better defend German troops on deployment.