GOTTINGEN, Germany --- German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen announced on January 12 that Germany's military plans to lease the Israeli-made Heron TP medium-altitude, long endurance (MALE) unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) as a bridge capability while a pan-European drone project gets underway.
The step comes after the German Army (Bundeswehr) gave the Heron 1 UAV, leased from Rheinmetall Defense as an interim solution for its long-term MALE requirement, positive reviews based on operational use in Afghanistan. While the Heron 1 has served the Bundeswehr capably, unlike the Heron TP it cannot be armed for combat missions when required.
Germany's leasing of the Heron TP will serve to plug a longer-term requirement held by the country's armaments directorate, the Federal Office of Defense Technology and Procurement (Bundesamt fur Wehrtechnik und Beschaffung, or simply BWB), which will be met by the aforementioned European combat drone expected to enter service by 2025. A development agreement spearheaded by Germany and involving France, Italy and Spain was reached in 2015.
The MALE UAV bridging capability has been pursued by the BWB since 2008, when it first launched a project for five such drones. That procurement effort fell within the BWB's System zur abbildenden Aufklärung in der Tiefe des Einsatzgebietes (SAATEG, Deep Theater Reconnaissance and Mapping System) program. Although that program pitted the Heron TP against the U.S. Predator B, the project was postponed in 2009.
Eventually the BWB sought an interim bridge solution to a longer-term capability under a project referred to as the SAATEG Interim Solution (SAATEG Zwl) program.
This solution will be met under the Heron TP lease, which will involve 3-5 drones costing roughly EUR600 million ($650 million) per annum with initial deployment scheduled for 2018. Reports indicate that the drones will initially be stationed in Israel for training reasons before being relocated to a northern Germany airbase. Once in Bundeswehr service the Heron TPs will be used by German forces deployed on foreign missions.