Germany "Pulling Plug" on Drone Program to Avoid "a horror without end"

Costs, continental regulations blamed


Julian Herzog/Wikimedia

Germany's defense ministry has "pulled the plug" on its EuroHawk drone program, on which it already spent $655 million and had plans to spend about $645 million more on four additional models.  "Better an end with horror than a horror without end," the Germany's defense minister told parliament. Solid guidance.

Regulatory uncertainty and overregulation in Europe may have played a role in the horror as well. Deutsche Welle TK interviewed a German security analyst who insists it wasn't cost but the regulatory regime that felled the program:

DW: Are high airspace costs the real reason that Germany's Euro Hawk program was canceled?

Christian Mölling: It's not that simple. It has more to do with the fact that this aircraft that was purchased—this drone—has to be integrated into the airspace. That's not just a problem for this drone, but for all drones in Europe. And for that, Europe has no solution. I don't think the costs [of the Euro Hawk program] played a very big role.

But shouldn't they have known about those flight restrictions earlier? Haven't those rules always been there?

Yes, of course, that's something that was known about before. The problem isn't that something new popped up, but a question of new regulations for European airspace—that has been on the agenda for a long, long time. The problem is that you don't only need a purely national solution, but a European solution. Airspace in Europe, and how manned and unmanned aircraft can work together in the future, has to be newly regulated. And that takes time—as everything in Europe takes a bit longer. But it will, like many things in Europe, work at the end of the day, and that's why I still don't understand why the whole program had to be shot down.

It wasn't working for the German defense ministry or for Northup Grumman. From a Flight Daily News article from last September:

The certification process is "probably the biggest challenge in the programme" to field the Northrop RQ-4 Global Hawk derivative, says Jim Kohn, the company's Euro Hawk programme director. "In the US it was a system-level certification, but for Germany it's all the way down to the box level. It's a painfully detailed approach."

Germany's defense minister was also "surprised" at the negative response in February when the government was revealed to be considering purchasing armed drones.

Germany expects budget surpluses this year and next. Others expect it to bail out Europe.