According to Defense News, Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen is preparing to ask German lawmakers to authorize a €1 billion ($1.22 billion) program to lease a handful of armed Heron-TP drones from Israel. The minister will likely make the request "within days or weeks," the news outlet reported Wednesday.
The report states that Berlin would not actually take delivery of the aircraft, but instead would deploy the drones in Israel and bring Airbus into the fold to manage the program. While the drones would start by providing deployed German forces with surveillance capabilities, the program would evolve to include a precision strike capability as well.
"[German Social Democratic] Party operatives now say that an affirmative vote in the Bundestag is all but assured, barring any surprises from the defense ministry," wrote Sebastian Sprenger, a Defense News correspondent in Cologne.
The policy measure is expected to receive support from legislators as long as there is a strong emphasis that the drones won't be used for extra-territorial strikes, which have been made infamous by the United States. Focusing the program on protecting German forces can essentially sidestep the ethical debate around combat drones, Defense News noted.
Approximately 1,200 German forces are stationed in the Middle East in support of NATO's fight against Daesh.
The weaponized drone club has grown substantially in recent years as accessible and cost-effective Chinese models have poured into the global market and countries such as Israel and Iran have pioneered new designs.
The United States, United Kingdom, China, Israel, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia and South Africa all possess armed unmanned aerial vehicles, according to a report from the New America Foundation released in 2015. In this context, "commercial-unmanned-aircraft-strapped-with-grenades-or-IEDs" are not considered weaponized drones, since they more or less function as guided missiles.
Put simply, a US Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone with a 1,150 mile range and armament of four Hellfire missiles, two 500-pound Joint Direct Attack Munitions or two laser-guided Paveway bombs is a much different beast than a recreational UAV rigged up as a makeshift remotely guided missile.