Next year, unmanned Heron TP aircraft, which Germany has leased from Israel as part of an armaments cooperation, are to be tested in northern Germany for the first time. “A demonstration operation at the Jagel site is planned for the second half of 2023,” confirmed the Ministry of Defense when asked by the “Süddeutsche Zeitung”.

The Bundeswehr wants to lay the foundations for being able to use these drones for tasks in national and alliance defense in the future. This is a reaction to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as a result of which national and alliance defense has regained priority for the Bundeswehr. “Originally, the drones were only intended for use abroad and should not have flown in Germany at all,” said former Bundestag Commissioner for the Armed Forces and security expert Hans-Peter Bartels of the SZ.

In addition, the Heron TP will be used to provide assistance in the event of a disaster and, with its cameras and sensors, will help to create situational awareness. The Ministry of Defense cites deployments in flood disasters and forest fires as examples. The Heron TP can take off even in extremely bad weather conditions and stay in the air for up to 36 hours.

The aim of the test operation is to prove that the Heron TP “can basically be used in Germany”, the ministry said. However, a spokeswoman for the military department made clear restrictions: According to this, the Heron TP can only be used in a “specific, separate airspace” so as not to come into contact with civil air traffic. These could be areas temporarily closed to other aircraft. The Heron TP, which was also technically modified for use in Germany, “is not fully integrated into German airspace or approved for unrestricted operation,” emphasized the ministry.

In 2018, the federal government decided to purchase the modern drones from Israel, but initially without armament. The Heron TP can be equipped with missiles and is considered to be one of the most effective weapon systems of this type on the market. After years of debate, some of which was heated, the traffic light coalition initiated the acquisition of the appropriate armament in the spring. The reason given was that soldiers deployed abroad needed the best possible protection.

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