The US uses them in the “war on terror”: now German military should be allowed to use armed drones. The trend towards fully automated systems is unstoppable – and raises new questions about warfare.
Almost silently, the propeller-driven, unmanned missiles orbit their targets. From heights of ten kilometers and more, their electronic eyes register everything that happens even in the most inaccessible mountain areas. “Predator” or “Reaper” are the names of machines reminiscent of giant insects whose wings reach spans of more than 20 meters.
Equipped with bombs and missiles, they literally bring death out of the blue: in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraqor Yemen, the US has carried out hundreds of unmanned drone attacks so far. It is not the armed forces on the scene, but employees of the US secret service CIA control the unmanned missiles from tens of thousands of miles away.
Protection of soldiers or question of prestige?
What has been available to the Americans for more than a decade, German military would also like. It seems the federal government finally fulfills this wish. Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen has officially statedthat the Bundeswehr may use armed drones. In the future, Parliament should decide on a case-by-case basis whether to use armed drones in addition to deployed troops, she told the Süddeutsche Zeitung.
Currently, the German government is using only reconnaissance dronesin Afghanistan , which are spying on enemy areas with sensors and cameras – the “Heron 1” leased by Israel. It is only available in the Hindu Kush, for other countries there is currently no approval. However, this contract expires in the spring of 2015. For the future, the German Air Force wishes reconnaissance drones, which they can arm later.
Combat drones are especially important for the protection of soldiers, stressed representatives of the Bundeswehr. For example, Bundeswehr Captain Hans-Werner Fritz reports that during his mission to the Hindu Kush, he always calmed him down when he knew that a German patrol would be accompanied by a US drone, which could also give it fire protection in an emergency.
A combat drone for Europe
According to the Leyen, the Bundeswehr should not buy its own combat drones, but only lease them if necessary. There are currently two options to choose from: the Israeli successor to the Heron 1, the larger “Heron TP”. But also the US drone Predator B of the manufacturer General Atomics was in the discussion. Both models are reconnaissance drones that can be equipped with rockets and bombs and thus converted into a combat drone.
The drone leasing should be but only an interim solution. In the long term, the Federal Republic does not want to be dependent on other countries. “It makes more sense to develop a separate, European drone system,” says Marcel Dickow of the Foundation for Science and Politics in Berlin. As the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung reports, such a project between Germany, Italyand France isalready in the planning stage. By 2020, therefore, a Europeanreconnaissance drone should be available. “Whether they are armed then remains to be seen,” says Dickow. He himself is skeptical of at least armed drones, because they could expand conflicts spatially and temporally.
Other scientists and peace activists fear that the threshold for weapons use with combat drones could fall, because the pilots are thus far from the actual fighting action. However, German air force pilots – unlike American – control their drones from a control container directly in the field. So they would be at least as close to the war as the pilot of a fighter jet, contrary to advocates all skeptics.