PARIS --- At the beginning of April, two major procurement cases were processed, increasing the future capabilities of the Bundeswehr while axing a joint project with France and ending a psychodrama in Germany.
The end of a joint project:
On April 4, the US Senate Foreign Affairs Committee approved the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) project to supply the German Air Force with five Boeing P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft at a cost of $1.77 billion. (The Budget Committee of the Bundestag had approved a budget envelope of 1.43 billion euros on June 23, 2021).
Despite all the rhetoric deployed by the Bundestag, by personalities from the government coalition or from the Union, this FMS case finally torpedoed the final chance of developing a Maritime Airborne Warfare System (MAWS) with France.
To be honest, this project was ill-starred from its very inception.
Instead of hiring the most capable prime contractors for this kind of maritime patrol aircraft, (Dassault Aviation and Thales), the decision-makers in both Germany and in France decided instead to ask Thales to form a consortium with three German companies, Hensoldt, ESG (Elektroniksystem) and Diehl to develop the mission system. Dassault Aviation and Airbus would have come into play only later, during the second stage of the project, to develop a new aerial platform for the new, jointly-designed mission payload.
Since 1958, Dassault has designed and produced several generations of French maritime patrol aircraft, from the ‘Atlantique 1’ (via Bréguet), then the ‘Atlantique 2’, followed by the ATL2 upgrade, its OCEAN (Continued optimization of the maintenance of the Atlantic 2, i.e, the vertical support of maritime patrol aircraft) follow-on up to the Falcon 10X, not to mention the Falcon 200 MSA, sold to demanding export customers such as Japan…Yet, it s decided that Dassault should be kept outside the MAWS project.
For Germany, the decision to buy the P-8 Poseidon is a deliberate choice, both for diplomatic and for schedule reasons.
The P-3 Orion was certainly outdated, but other European solutions existed, all of which would have allowed the German Navy to wait for the MAWS, including the lease of three upgraded ‘Atlantique 2’ from France. This was a strong political gesture from Paris, given the sacrifice required of the French Navy to give up three aircraft.
Yet, Germany’s defense procurement agency, the BAAiNBw, pushed for a quick solution, which also allowed it to make a strong push for extended capabilities, and so transforming a technical decision in a diplomatic one.
By claiming that it could resume co-operation with France at a later date, Germany wants to have its cake and eat it, too. Having its cake is buying off-the-shelf, and eating it by picking up technological bricks from France (Thales) and developing its own system: the perfect solution viewed from Berlin…
End of a psychodrama
The Bundestag’s Defence Committee also approved a budget of €152.6 million for arming the Bundeswehr’s five Heron TP unmanned aircraft (three armed out of five, in practice) with 80 missiles (€38.17 millions) and 60 training missiles (€27.5 millions), already leased and stored at Tel-Nof air base in Israel.
This being a complex political issue in Germany, approval was given only subject to the following restrictions & regulations:
a. The use of armed drones will only be allowed if the Bundestag has previously "explicitly" approved it in the deployment mandate. The Bundestag can also fix “limits to the mission, the field of operation and the powers to be used;”
b. The deployment must also be carried out with strict respect for the protection of civilians. The draft states: "Combating legitimate military targets in armed conflicts with armed UAS (drones) should be avoided if it is expected to result in loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects or combine into a plurality of such consequences disproportionate to the concrete and immediate military advantage anticipated.” It was considered that these guarantees poorly masked the new government coalition’s distrust of the Bundeswehr, which was obliged to submit in practice to the operational control of the Bundestag on its future deployments.
At first sight, these restrictions seem to be less demanding than those expressed by Ms. Hertha Däubler-Gmelin, an MP who, in an internal report for the SPD leadership dated October 12th, 2021, accepted the arming of drones only under the following conditions:
a. The express prohibition of extrajudicial executions in order to ensure strict respect for international law and the Basic Law, and to differentiate expressly from the practice of other States;
b. The categorical rejection of fully automated drones and other lethal autonomous weapon systems. The decision to use weapons can only be taken by people who, through their personal involvement in the area of operations, are able to assess the risk for the military, but also and above all for the affected civilian population;
c. The development of a binding deployment doctrine for armed drones by the Federal government in order to ensure the highest level of transparency in the use of armed drones vis-à-vis the Bundestag and the public. It must also be ensured that the Bundestag is immediately informed in the event of changes to the general rules of engagement;
d. The use of armed drones only if explicitly provided for in the Bundestag mandate for the foreign deployment of the Bundeswehr, in order to achieve a high degree of transparency and control;
e. UAV command, tracking and control units should be stationed in the mandated operational area; there should therefore be no decision at a distance. This is the only way to realistically assess the situation in the area of operation: danger for the German military and the civilian population, and to make a decision without other considerations;
f. The best possible training, care, support and follow-up must be provided for soldiers who must make immediate decisions in the operational area;
g. The necessary adherence to international rules for the deployment of armed drones and their operational uses;
h. Enacting arms export laws that restrictively regulate the export of armed drones. Arms exports should in principle only be possible to the EU, NATO and equivalent countries and, in absolute exceptions, only in individual cases justified in accordance with the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT);
i. The SPD undertakes that the future federal government, when supporting European armament projects such as the "Future Combat Air System" (FCAS), will make binding the principle of strengthening "meaningful human control" from the initial development of the systems in question;
j. The strengthening of the powers of the Bundestag in the field of export controls.
The Budget Committee finally validated the entire project on April 6, thereby putting an end to a major national psychodrama that dates back to 2014, and which could have been resolved long ago, given the solution that was finally adopted.