German defense minister Thomas de Maiziere has defended his role in the failed Euro Hawk drone project. He blames earlier governments and a lack of proper information from his subordinates for the debacle.
Speaking to a parliamentary committee investigating the failure of the multi-million-euro project, de Maiziere said that although he had been aware of problems with the program since March, they had been presented to him as "soluble."
He said this had only changed on May 13, 2013 when the cost overruns owing to problems with having the drone certified as airworthy caused the project to be called off.
He also said state secretaries at the defense ministry had not kept him adequately informed.
Rejecting blame for the loss of so much money, de Maiziere said that at the time of his taking office, 85 percent of the total cost for the drone had already been spent or assigned. "The project was already on the slippery slope," he said.
He admitted that problems with the project had been underestimated from the start, speaking of a "congenital defect."
He also defended the decision to stop the project, saying that "in my assessment, the timing of the decision was not too late."
On Tuesday, State Secretary at the German Defense Ministry Stephane Beemelmans vouched for de Maiziere, saying the minister had only heard in May 2013 that the project would have to be closed down. This had also been stated earlier before the committee.
The opposition has called this into question, and accuses de Maiziere of not having given adequate attention to the project, run by the arms companies Northrop Grumman and EADS subsidiary Cassidian. It has called for his resignation.
Commenting on de Maiziere's remarks to the committee, the Left party delegate Jan van Aken accused the defense minister of presenting himself as a man without blame or responsibility.
"Self-criticism seems a foreign concept to him," van Aken said, pointing out that millions and millions of euros had been spent on the failed project.
At the start of his hearing, de Maiziere had called for an objective debate on the Euro Hawk affair.
"The political debate about all these issues should remain constructive despite the coming elections," he said, referring to the German federal elections scheduled for September 22.
As a member of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) who is close to Chancellor Angela Merkel, de Maiziere could severely compromise the government in an election year if he is found guilty of any mismanagement.
The project, aimed at outfitting US-made Global Hawk drones with German sensors for aerial surveillance, was stopped in May as a result of cost overruns. It cost an estimated 660 million euros (860 million dollars) over 12 years before it was closed down.
The Euro Hawk drone made its maiden flight in 2010. However, officials realized that European aviation-safety authorities would be unable to certify it as airworthy for Europe's airspace in the foreseeable future, as it lacked the necessary modifications and documentation.
The committee is expected to report on its findings by August 31, just weeks before German elections take place.
tj/hc (dpa, Reuters)