The German government has said that it favors the purchase of armed drones to support Bundeswehr troops in missions abroad. Although the idea is controversial, a decision is expected in the next few months.
Strictly speaking the idea is not entirely new, but it turned up on Berlin's political agenda on Friday after Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right government responded to a question posed by the opposition Left party.
A spokesman for the Defense Ministry said that Germany's mission in Afghanistan had shown that it would "certainly make sense" to have armed drones at the military's disposal. And Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, told reporters that the chancellor thought it "important that the Bundeswehr get the equipment that it needs to fulfill its mission."
Although the government has yet to make a final decision on the issue, this is expected to come sometime in the first half of 2013, according to the Defense Ministry.
Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere expressed his support for the idea of equipping the German forces with armed drones as early as 2010. Senior military officers also favor their purchase.
"I can't explain to the soldiers on the ground why, for political reasons, they have to wait for a manned plane to provide air support, when a drone could have done the same thing," air force head Lieutenant-General Karl Müllner said.
De Maiziere has said that the German military should aim to eventually purchase European-made drones, which are still in the development phase. In the shorter term, Germany could use Israeli-made Heron combat drones or Predators (pictured above), which have been used by the US military since 1995. The Bundeswehr currently uses leased Heron drones for surveillance purposes only.
The potential use of combat drones, though, is far more controversial.
Left member of parliament Andrej Hunko said his party opposed the use of combat drones outright. The head of the parliamentary party of the opposition Greens, Jürgen Trittin, told the online edition of Spiegel newsmagazine that the plan to purchase the drones was symptomatic of the government's "blind, irresponsible handling of advances in military technology."
The opposition Social Democrats' parliamentary party leader, Thomas Oppermann, warned the government against making a "rash decision" and called for a "broad societal and parliamentary debate about the ethical and legal limitations to the use of combat drones."
The use of combat drones by the United States in recent years has been particularly controversial, although they have also been used by Britain and Israel. On Thursday the United Nations announced that it would launch an inquiry into the use of combat drones in counter-terrorism operations, particularly with regard to the number of civilians killed. The inquiry is to investigate 25 drone strikes launched in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories.
pfd/dr (dpa, dapd, AFP)