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German Forces Begin Training Courses on Armed Israeli Surveillance Drones

© AP Photo / Ariel SchalitFILE - In this March 7, 2007, file photo, the Israeli army Heron TP drone, also known locally as the Eitan, flies during a display at the Palmahim Air Force Base in Palmahim, Israel
FILE - In this March 7, 2007, file photo, the Israeli army Heron TP drone, also known locally as the Eitan, flies during a display at the Palmahim Air Force Base in Palmahim, Israel - Sputnik International
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German forces recently began a training course at the Tel Nof airbase in Rehovot, Israel, in an effort to learn the surveillance capabilities of the costly Heron TP unmanned surveillance drone.

The German officials, a pilot and sensor operator, began the eight-week training session in late January, according to the Jerusalem Post, which reported that the drone training is expected to continue for two years and involve the participation of 35 two-person teams.

Built by the Israel Aerospace Industries (AIA), the Heron TPs can be used for reconnaissance, combat and support missions, as well as carry air-to-ground missiles. With a 40-hour flight endurance, the drone also has a maximum take-off weight of 12,500 pounds and can carry a payload of 5,950 pounds.

In this March 7, 2007, file photo, Israeli Air Force officers stand next to an Israeli army Heron TP drone, also known locally as the Eitan, during a display at the Palmahim Air Force Base - Sputnik International
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German Air Force Col. Kristof Conrath, whose squadron will operate the unmanned drones, told Defense News last week the current instructional period marks "another milestone" in German-Israeli air force cooperation.

"Our Israeli partners have far-reaching expertise in this area, and the necessary airspace environment," Conrath told the outlet. "That's what we are getting out of this."

In June, Germany's parliamentary budget committee approved a military lease of the Heron TP drones in a deal estimated to be worth $1.2 billion. The deal had initially experienced some setbacks over concerns from German lawmakers about its missile capabilities. However, the German Defense Ministry has indicated that missiles would only be used in the event of immediate danger to its servicemembers.

At the time, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the approval as a "great contribution to the Israeli security industry and to the Israeli economy." He added, "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."

An Israel soldier launches an Israeli army's Skylark I unmanned drone aircraft, which is used for monitoring purposes, at an army deployment area near Israel's border with the besieged Palestinian territory, on August 4, 2014. - Sputnik International
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The German-Israeli deal came months before Germany extended its contract in December 2018 between the Bundeswehr and Airbus Defense and Space for the usage of Heron 1 drones until mid-2020. German armed forces have been using Heron 1 drones in Afghanistan and in Mali since 2010 and 2016, respectively. Per the Post, Heron TP drones might be deployed to Mali.

The Heron TP military deal, which is composed of two separate agreements involving the Israeli government and Europe's Airbus, will see Israeli drones leased to Germany through 2027. When not in use by German forces, the drones will be based in Israel, according to the Times of Israel.

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