Monday, 16 December 2013

“MALE” and “FEMALE” drones—what next?

The German government is promoting the production of combat drones by European arms industries. Seven EU countries, including Germany, have decided to accelerate the development and production of these highly controversial weapons by companies in EU member-states.

Production is scheduled to begin by 2020. The recent decision to waive the purchase of American and Israeli drones shows that Germany aims at the EU consolidating its own independent arms industrythe prerequisite also for an independent global military policy. Germany is also increasing its arms exports to countries outside the EU and NATO, as documented by the government’s recent Arms Exports Report. This is designed to counterbalance cuts in the European and North American military budgets and to consolidate its arms industry.

At the recent meeting of the European Defence Agency in Brussels seven EU member-countries agreed to accelerate the production of combat drones. The objective is to produce “medium- altitude long-endurance” (MALE) drones for various purposes, including warding off migrants in the Mediterranean Sea as well as for military strikes. This project is to be discussed further at the next EU defence summit on 19 December.


Germany is one of the seven countries in this group, which the French minister of defence, Jean-Yves Le Drian, calls a “club of drone-using countries.” The group also includes not only the Netherlands and Poland but also crisis- ridden Spain, Italy, and Greece, whose populations are suffering draconian austerity measures.

The decision to embark on the independent European production of drones shows that more than Germany is planning the use of combat drones. Major-General Jörg Vollmer, commander of German troops in northern Afghanistan, recently pressed for the use of combat drones by the German army. An “unarmed drone” can be used for surveillance but not for intervention; an “armed drone,” however, can be used for “immediate reaction.”

Beyond this decision, the competition for contracts between various European consortiums also reveals the power rivalries within the EU. The French Dassault Group is testing a stealth combat drone, “Neuron,” in whose development Spanish, Italian, Greek, Swedish and Swiss companies are also involved.

Dassault and British Aerospace are also working jointly on the development of a stealth drone, “Telemos,” to be ready for use by 2018, a project that Germany is observing with apprehension. In November 2010 France and Britain launched a far-reaching military and armaments co-operation, which would enable them to conduct military operations without German approval, thereby overcoming German dominance within the EU, at least in the military field. German government advisers are already speaking of a new “Entente Cordiale.”

In the field of drone production Germany is countering the British-French “Telemos” project with, at the core, a German-French project. Last summer EADS, builders of the Airbus, presented the “future European medium-altitude long-endurance” (FEMALE) drone programme, with EADS, Dassault and the

Italian firm Finmeccanica participating. The government-sponsored BICAS project, based in the premises of EADS at Ottobrunn, near Munich, is said to play a significant role in the development of the EADS combat drone.

An report issued in October by the EU high representative for foreign and defence policy, Catherine Ashton, reiterated the appeal to member-states to develop drones with co- operative projects. And EU leaders will call for more co-ordination on drones when they meet in Brussels this month, according to a draft of the summit’s conclusions seen by the business site Bloomberg. The meeting, on 19 and 20 December, will endorse the call by Ashton for the building of a community of states that use remotely piloted aircraft, as established last month by France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Greece, the Netherlands, and Poland. The EU will encourage “close synergies” between states and the EU Commission on regulating these aircraft, along with “appropriate funding from 2014,” the draft says. 

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