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Defense

Defense minister defends drone decision

German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere admitted mistakes were made in the run-up to a decision to scrap an expensive German drone development program. But he said the decision itself – and its timing – were correct.

Appearing in front of a parliamentary committee in Berlin on Wednesday, Thomas de Maiziere was asked to explain why development of a German drone – called the Euro Hawk – was not halted much earlier when it became clear such a device would not get clearance from aviation authorities.

It was apparently known long before the program was abandoned on May 14 that a lack of documentation and certain modifications made it unlikely that the drone would be cleared to fly in European airspace.

De Maiziere told the parliamentary committee that if the Euro Hawk program been abandoned earlier, it would have meant even more German taxpayer money would have been lost.

Halted project

The first inklings that the Euro Hawks might not receive approval from aviation authorities came up in February 2012.

But, according to de Maiziere, these problems were still considered solvable at the time, so the project continued. This included further steps toward testing a reconnaissance system (AGS, Alliance Ground Surveillance) that was to be later integrated into the unmanned drones. The drones and the AGS were considered separate parts of the deal, coming from American defense company Northrop Grumman and the European Aeronautic Defense and Space (EADS) company, respectively.

It wasn't until May – just days before the plug was eventually pulled on the Euro Hawk project – that de Maiziere felt there was no way the necessary approval could be obtained without significant extra costs to the project.

The time and money spent between the fall of 2011 and May 2013 was not wasted, said de Maiziere, as it allowed for AGS to undergo a series of useful tests. These tests will continue until September as planned, he said. Had the project been called off earlier, that money – which had already been committed to the tests – would have been wasted, according to the minister, because then the tests wouldn't have even taken place.

Even though de Maiziere defended the decision and the timing of the stopped project, he said there were shortcomings in how the process was handled. He said his involvement was "inadequate," and that "such a decision should be made by me personally."

As it was, de Maiziere's deputies had made the decision, and the minister himself had only approved it.

Consequences for 'some'

De Maiziere hasn't ruled out "consequences for some personnel" as a result of the drone debacle, but has not made any indication he plans to personally take responsibility by stepping down.

Rainer Arnold, defense expert for the opposition Social Democrats (SPD), criticized de Maiziere for only looking towards others for mistakes, while at the same time "the opinion is that he did everything right."

The Left party's Inge Höger accused de Maiziere of deflecting the mistakes surrounding the drone program onto others, and said bringing down a "pawn" wouldn't be enough.

mz,dr/ipj (Reuters, dpa, AP)