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Military

Defense minister says Germany should buy drones

Thomas de Maiziere has said he thinks Germany should use unmanned drones, similar to the ones commonly employed by the US over Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere told the Saturday edition of the Die Welt newspaper that he would like to see unmanned drones within the German military's ranks, saying he saw no contradiction between the nature of the planes and Germany's non-aggressive military code.

"In essence, a drone is quite simply a plane without a pilot," de Maiziere told the paper. "Planes are allowed to carry weapons. So why shouldn't we allow unmanned planes to do so?"

De Maiziere likened the idea to torpedoes or rockets that automatically track their targets without direct human involvement, also pointing to the German Marines' use of automated mine detection equipment.

German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere sitting in a Transall C-160, flying from Kabul to Afghanistan on a visit earlier in the year.

De Maiziere said that a weapon is always neutral, from an ethical perspective

Some have suggested that the unmanned, primarily offensive nature of drone aircraft makes them unsuitable for Germany's strictly non-aggressive military code adopted in the post-war period. Drones fly at a high altitude, where they can be used for reconnaissance or to strike targets on the ground. Unlike fighter jets, they cannot be used as a defensive weapon in an aerial dogfight.

Too attack-minded for German military?

"Ethically, a weapon must always be perceived as neutral," the German defense minister said.

De Maiziere also lauded drones as a particularly accurate form of weapon, pointing to the subsequent reduction in civilian casualties.

Germany already leases three unarmed Heron drones from Israel for use over Afghanistan, but de Maiziere said the country should consider purchasing as many as 16 of its own - with a final decision possible later this year.

One of the Bundeswehr's rented Heron drones, pictured 23.06.2011 at Camp Marmal in Afghanistan.

Germany's three rented drones are for reconnaissance only

The defense minister said it was currently not an option to buy unarmed drones designed for reconnaissance only, because the latest models on the market - including the new Heron TP - were all equipped with weapons. De Maiziere said it would be an illogical and expensive process to convert them after purchase.

He did suggest, however, that Germany, Britain and France should consider producing "a European drone that would hopefully be available in the years after 2020." The most common current drones are the US-built Predator B and the Israeli Heron TP.

Drones frequently patrol over Afghanistan, its border region with Pakistan, and Iraq - monitoring and sometimes striking suspected terrorists or insurgents. One German citizen was killed by a drone strike in Pakistan in 2010, an incident that the national prosecutors' office officially began investigating in July this year.

msh/av (AFP, dpa, Reuters)