In the aftermath of the recent clash in Nagorno-Karabakh between Azerbaijan and Armenia, the effectiveness of drones in a regional and limited conflict setting were showcased and countries have begun to readdress the importance of uninhabited aerial vehicles (UAVs) and anti-UAV capabilities.

Alongside the United Kingdom, where the Ministry of Defence is eager to expand its own drone programme, and Spain, which recently announced the purchase of swarm drones for intelligence gathering, surveillance and target acquisition, Germany is the latest European nation to revisit the issue of drones in the months after Nagorno-Karabakh.

The drone debate in Germany has long been a polarising topic in national politics, and Angela Merkel has resisted updating German defence policy.


Andro Mathewson is a Capability Support Officer at the HALO Trust and an International Relations MSc student at the University of Edinburgh. He is interested in international security and military technology. Andro has previously contributed to The Bulletin Of Atomic Sciences and The Texas National Security Review.

Before his current studies, he was a Research Fellow at Perry World House at the University of Pennsylvania, where he also received his Bachelor of Arts in Politics, Philosophy, & Economics, and German. Find him on Twitter @Andro_Mathewson. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of The HALO Trust.


Yet with a resurgent Russia to the East, the lack of the United Kingdom in the European Union and increasing regional conflicts, Germany can no longer afford to remain without a clearer international security policy and must develop its own armed drone capacity and strategy. 

At the end of 2020, the Social Democratic Party of Germany, voted against the armament of Israeli-made Heron TP drones, citing that ‘more debate’ was needed on the matter. However, current defense minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer noted that the armament of UAVs is crucial to provide adequate support and protection for soldiers on deployments. Currently, the German Armed Forces, or Bundeswehr, only use UAVs for reconnaissance and intelligence gathering. Yet opportunities for the successful deployment of armed German drones are starting to appear.

With the recent reduction of US troops in Afghanistan, there are, for the first time, more NATO soldiers, than American in the country. This offers the opportunity for Germany to take a leading role in the region with the provision of strategic, tactical and training support to government forces, especially in their fight against terrorist groups which still have a presence in the region such al Qaeda and Islamic State militants. UAVs would prove highly beneficial in providing that support and an additional layer of defense from and pose a threat to enemy combatants. 

In further opposition to German armament of UAVs is the Green party in Germany, which over the past couple of decades has seen a steady increase in support. Jürgen Trittin, a member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, recently stated that “it is nonsense to pretend that combat drones are equivalent to bulletproof vests to protect the soldiers. Combat drones are used to establish air superiority in combat missions in asymmetrical conflicts”.

Yet this is factually incorrect.

UAVs are not used to establish air superiority, since they lack built-in self-defence mechanisms, but rather necessitate air superiority before they are able to effectively contribute to missions. Nevertheless, the establishment of air superiority (the continuation of which is aided by combat drones) is a form of protection that decidedly saves lives: a side that wins air superiority in the decisive battle of a war suffers approximately 1.5x fewer casualties per casualty inflicted upon the opposing side. 

Many in Germany also see armed UAVs simply as tools for targeted airstrikes against terrorists in the Middle East, which have frequently been criticized for killing nearby civilians during such missions, but UAVs are versatile military systems, which can and have been used for internationally legitimate purposes. The problem lies not with the technology, but rather with how UAVs are used. In an example of beneficial usage, France has recently deployed armed drones in Africa’s Sahel region as part of Operation Barkhane supporting nations in their fight against Islamist extremist groups.

In a recent strike, a Reaper drone opened fire to support ground troops under fire from a group of terrorists on motorbikes in central Mali. The drone strike resulted in the death of seven enemy combatants and the successful seizure of armed vehicles and weaponry. This legitimate use of an armed UAV undoubtedly contributed not only to the success of the mission but also to the safety of the French and allied troops on the ground. If Germany is to move ahead with its own armed drone programme, it should do so under the traditional rules of engagement and within the limits defined by international law. Thus it will be able to provide adequate protection and support to its troops, while minimizing the chances for indiscriminate deaths of civilians. 

With the continued diffusion of armed drones and precision strike capabilities on a global scale, it is clear that drone warfare is here to stay and is almost an integral part of any modern military force.

Regardless if Germany should purchase armed drones from the United States or other allies, or develop its own indigenous drone industry, its current contentious stance on armed drones is a hindrance to both its own foreign policy goals and that of its allies across NATO and the EU.

On the stage of 21st century warfare, a Bundeswehr with armed drones will only positively contribute to Germany’s foreign policy and international security goals.

4.6 5 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
34 Comments
oldest
newest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
BB85

Seems crazy that any politicians can be so stupid as to argue the ethics of equipping uavs with missiles in this day and age. Just because there is no onboard pilot does not mean there is not considerable thought and evaluation put in before making the decision to strike. In fact because it is unmanned I bet there is considerably more thought put into it when the pilot does not need to worry about being shot down. There needs to be a clear distinction between uavs and truly autonomous platforms a bit like most TLAMs that use pre programmed algorythmns… Read more »

Marcus

With most RPAS (Remotely Piloted Air Systems) crews, a sensor operator and mission intelligence co-ordinator support the pilot in both decision making and resource management. That’s on top of a CAOC and support staff giving input. With greater loiter time as well, I’d say for ground strike capability in a permissive enviroment, the drone option is THE ethical choice.

4th watch

Maybe Mutti is thinking of the last time Germany indiscriminately unleashed UAV’s on an unsuspecting civilian population and doesnt want more bad publicity.

BB85

The problem is it wasn’t the UAVs fault and politician trying to blame the UAV and mainstream media reporting uninformed simplistic BS rather than the actual truth is why the public don’t trust politicians or the mainstream media anymore.

Frank62

The V1?

Steve R

It’s a ridiculous debate really. There is no ethical or moral dilemma.

What, really, is the difference between a pilot aiming a bomb or a missile at a target through a camera from 2,000 miles away and a pilot aiming a bomb or missile at a target through a camera from 40,000 feet?

Doesn’t matter if its a Typhoon, a Reaper or anything else. Same difference.

AlexS

It is not ridiculous because the Greens and even some SPD members are in the other side. So for them it makes sense.
Like in the past they protected the SS20 soviet missiles. So their objective is to limit allied capacity. They just can’t be upfront.
Note the stress pilot might have in aircraft it may even make them more prone to mistakes.

Bluemoonday

The issue is still political because of what their constituents opinions, naive or not.

Dave Wolfy

Does uninhabited mean unwomanned?

Captain P Wash

Ermmm Well, Yes and No really….. lol.

Derek

Define ‘Woman’. Good luck without going to jail!

Captain P Wash

Lol. Would you like an in depth definition based on a life time of experience, or a PC definition ?

Gfor

Last time I checked the US was a member of NATO.
Does the author mean US forces are now outnumbered by the total forces of all other NATO members combined?
In all honesty I cannot see Germany pulling its weight anywhere that it does not see as being in its own interests.

pkcasimir

Even when its in its own best interest, Germany, under Merkel or her successor, will not pull its own weight. Why should it? The Americans are dumb enough to do it for them. Unfortunately, post-Trump and under President Asterisk, there is no momentum to apply any pressure on them to do so.

dave12

Well Biden is wiser then old nutter trumpski ,so I’m sure he will make the right decisions like putting pressure on Putin should be more of a priority then Germany lol!! considering the recent Russian hack on the US among other things putin has done, as Putin had trumpski round his little finger I wonder why lol.

AlexS

Don’t you find it strange that only Russians hack?

Gunbuster

Only Russians get caught hacking…The idea is to not leave any evidence of the hack something that the russian bear teams are not to good at.

dave12

Err no ,not strange at all given Putins obsessional grudge match with the US and what a easy time to hack the US while trumpski self denial , must be all that Russian mafia money pumped in Trumpskis and co he owes.

AlexS

“Err no ,not strange at all” <- that only Russians hack.

I see you have been brainwashed like a Communist…

dave12

Lol what has Communists got to do with it ,Russia hacked the US and Trumpski did nothing about it or even mention it now thats facts and not being brainwashed unlike you poor Trumski supporters flat earthers lol.

pkcasimir

Another victim of Trump Derangement Syndrome. Unfortunately, there is no cure so you will just have to suffer.

dave12

Trumpski supporters are like flat earthers not very good with facts and are a small minority ,thank god .lol

Nathan

So, what evidence is there of Russian collusion with Trump? None. This is the fact of the matter.

dave12

I’m sure it will all come out now Trumpski has no presidential power The questions are why did trumpski deny his own intelligence agency briefings warning’s like Russias Taliban for hire to kill US soldiers,Russian meddling in US elections? , also why is Trumpski going on national TV going off topic saying what great leader Putin is?, why Trumpski close adviser was getting money payed to him from RT as a adviser as well? Why did Trumpski not even mention the Russian hack? sounds like Trumpski has been Putins useful idiot from day one.

pkcasimir

The Trump “small minority” received 74 million votes, more than the population of the UK, and 46.9% of the votes cast. Only a UK provincial would call that a “small minority.” Of course you are a product of an inferior British education. Thank God you don’t have ay influence in the world anymore. LOL!

Captain P Wash

Oh heck look….. Well sorry to piss on your Fire mate but I think you need to go look up the second most powerful country in the World….. You’ll be really upset to see who it is…. lol. By the way, Where’s Harold ? lol.

dave12

pkcasmir is a sensitive soul and a proud MAGA.

Airborne

Harold shouldnt be back, not least in the guise as Harold as I flagged his rather inane, racist and quite objectional posts up to George and his team. While I was toying with Harold, I was using his own stupidity against him. While I enjoy gripping a troll and drawing them out, and with that limited mental capacity, there has to be a line drawn when it becomes proper nasty, racist, aggressive and sad. Cheers mate but im sure he will be back in another form.

dave12

loooool pkcasmir with the inferior complex with the UK. When I say small minority I mean in the world population, but hay!! the dumb Trumpski supporters storming congress, still believing election fraud are something you should not be proud of flat earther!! but glad to see democracy has won!!!! in the US them being the educated, so I would not compare UK education to the US, the US uneducated are a danger to the world , as for influence in the world the UK still has got it buddy , just not interested in a pissing match with the US… Read more »

Airborne

That chip gets bigger, and bigger and……..BIGGER!

dan

It seems that Merkel doesn’t even care about Germany’s defense. She’s more interested in the EU and her crazy liberal social agenda. Ugh

dave12

yaaaaaawn!!

Nathan

Intereeeesting!!

Leonidas

Of course The Greens oppose this, like everything defense-related in Germany since the 1970s. They were the Soviets, and since 1991, the Russians, most reliable Fifth Column in Germany.