Germany's parliamentary budget committee on Wednesday approved a €1 billion ($1.17 billion) deal to lease Heron-TP unmanned air vehicles manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). The approval puts an end to a long-running saga that has seen protests from rival bidders and politicians opposed to the acquisition of the potentially-armed UAVs.
The deal includes a €720 million payment to the Airbus Defense and Space Company, which will lease seven UAVs from IAI (five regular UAVs and two for training) and €177 million to the Israeli government for the use of airports, command and control facilities, and support and maintenance services. Under its agreement with Airbus, IAI will receive $600 million.
Airbus DS Airborne Solutions GmbH will serve as the prime contractor responsible for managing all aspects of the project, including operational support and maintenance throughout the term of the agreement. The nine-year agreement is pending approval of the German federal budget, which is expected in the second half of 2018.
The Heron TP is a medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE), strategic, versatile and multiple-payload RPAS (remotely piloted aircraft system), which features IAI’s most advanced technologies. The system is in service with the Israel Air Force since 2010. It is the strategic variant of the Heron family, which includes the Heron 1, used by the German Air Force in Afghanistan since 2010 and in Mali since 2016.
The decision marks "an important signal" to the German army, said Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, who has been pushing for the step since early 2016. The minister said the Heron-TP could deliver images with better video resolution and fly longer distances, therefore offering better protection to German soldiers.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed the deal with German Chancellor Angela Merkel during their meeting last week in Berlin, according to the statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.
At a joint press conference, Merkel praised Israeli UAV technology, saying, “Germany and Israel are partners; we want to acquire advanced technologies from Israel.”
She added that the existing generation of UAVs was “doing exceptional work for surveillance and intelligence needs in Mali,” adding “They are helping to preserve the security of our soldiers there and can even increase it.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu welcomed the approval of the deal. “This is a great contribution to the Israeli defense industry and the Israeli economy. This giant deal is an expression of the strategic cooperation between Germany and Israel and attests to the potential of the Israeli industry to contribute to countries like Germany,” he said in a statement on Wednesday.
Shaul Shahar, IAI EVP and General Manager of the Military Aircraft Group, said, “We are thrilled and proud of this agreement with the Federal Ministry of Defense, a major strategic customer. The Heron TP is a first-rate strategic RPAS. Its strong performance will provide Germany with unprecedented air superiority. We regard it as a powerful symbol that the technology of Israel’s largest defense company will be used in the heart of Germany’s defense organization. IAI and Airbus would like to thank the German government for this vote of confidence built over many years. We are committed to preserving the quality of our service and systems and look forward to continued collaboration.”