Will get the F 35 drone wing men

Military technologyThe new drone war

On a military site near Bordeaux, lined with coniferous forests, a mini drone is supposed to rise on this windless, sunny morning. Two men sit at a large folding table next to the runway with opened suitcases in which computers are mounted. The telepilot.

A "telepilot" controls a drone from a computer terminal so small that it fits in a small suitcase. (Photo: Tom Schimmeck)

They click and tap, they speak into their headsets, give instructions to the third man, who, perhaps 50 paces away, starts a small helicopter - like a lawnmower. The rotor blades rotate at about belly height. Post 1 controls the values ​​and controls, Post 2 operates the video eye under the machine. The audience can follow the camera image on a large monitor. The "copter" purrs across the site, making circles. Stand still in the air. The lady at the microphone explains that he can explore the terrain and monitor pipelines. Throwing off even a small load. One click of the mouse - and a little bag of indefinite content falls to the floor.

Jean-Marc Masenelli, head of Survey Copter. Part of the Airbus group.

"About 95 percent of our customers are military or paramilitary - that is, security forces, gendarmerie, police."

Masenelli follows the little aviator's feats with satisfaction.

A small drone of the type "Surveycopter" from Airbus (Photo: Tom Schimmeck)

"We want to develop in export markets - especially in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Africa and the Gulf."

But there are also export restrictions there.

"Sure. All of our drone systems are classified as war material by the French government. That means: we have to obtain a license before exporting. And of course there are also countries and customers that are on the black list."

"Blacklisté" he says in French English.

Business, the director reveals, is not going badly.

(YouTube channel of the US Department of Defense: Targeted killing of "heavily armed insurgents" in Baghdad on April 10, 2008 by a UAV - unmanned aerial vehicle - of the US military or coalition forces)

Billions in business with unmanned aerial vehicles

The French Air Force Base 106 - a huge area right next to Bordeaux-Merignac Airport. From here Général de Gaulle left France in 1940 before the advancing Nazi troops. Shooting ranges, sheds, sports facilities, barbed wire. Housing, classrooms, even a small church. Access only with special permission. A shuttle bus transports guests to the exhibition halls. At the entrance a whole squadron of very young, slim, friendly French women is smiling.

A man's world begins behind it. Business suits and uniforms. The military-industrial complex. The "Air Defense Support Show", which mutates into a European drone exhibition. Is it true what many say: that the US and Israel are unreachable in terms of drone technology? That Europe can hardly catch up?

"Yes and no. There are different categories of drones. What you say may apply to very large MALE drones, to tactical drones. And we at Airbus are working hard to counteract this view of things a little That doesn't apply to the drones in my field, the mini-drones. Sure, we have American and Israeli competition, yes. But we are about to beat them. "

A MALE 2020 drone at the military fair in Bordeaux (Photo: Tom Schimmeck)

In 2013 the Austrian Ministry of Defense ordered six of its "tracker" systems with 18 aircraft. Each weighing barely eight kilos. They disappear as a kit together with the control unit in two rucksacks. And, Masenelli promises, they will be ready for use in less than ten minutes. If they are simply thrown into the air, they fly for up to an hour and a half, driven by two electric motors.

There is certainly an enormous market for the military in Africa, Asia and South America. In the civil sector, it is more difficult. Because there are still no real regulations for the airspace.

"That works a bit as a brake."

Unmanned aerial vehicles are set to become a billion-dollar business worldwide.

"But I think it will take another five to ten years before it really takes off and becomes a real market."

In the exhibition hall, the large stands of the armaments companies shine: Airbus Defense and Space, Dassault Aviation, Thales. In between there are manufacturers of cameras, propellers, motors and all sorts of other accessories. The Aquitaine region in southwest France is trying to establish itself as a future location for the drone business. As "aerospace valley". A competition to California. There are factories, specialist firms, research facilities, and military bases here. And several test sites for drones and missiles. France senses a future business and wants to be a pioneer. It is said that 1,000 "drone pilots" already have a license for France.

Israel is one of the pioneers in unmanned technology

At a booth, visitors are proudly presented with "the Bible" - a 240-page directory of all RPAS under construction or in the planning stage - in other words: Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems. So the remote-controlled flight systems. From the - loaded - over 14 ton "Global Hawk", with a wingspan of almost 40 meters as big as a medium-sized Airbus. Right down to the nano-drones that weigh just a few grams and look like insects. There is already talk of "mosquito drones" that people not only observe with a camera and microphone, but can also take a DNA sample with a pinprick. Simple drone models have long been available in supermarkets.

A type A RQ-4 Block 20 Global Hawk drone (picture alliance / dpa / EPA / Andy Rain)

"I don't see Israel and Europe as competitors. I see us as partners. There are already some collaborations between Israeli and European companies."

Stéphane Friedfeld, aviation entrepreneur and representative of the Israel Space Federation, plays down his country's technological lead a little.

"Unfortunately in Israel we have to use these new tools almost every day. But of course that is also a strength. The second is the ingenuity of Israeli companies and engineers - creativity."

The experience with unmanned reconnaissance aircraft is great. Israel's military has also used drones as a deadly weapon in the Gaza Strip and Sinai.

Just like the US, which operates combat drones in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen. According to research by the London Bureau of Investigative Journalism, they have already claimed between 2,400 and 3,900 deaths in Pakistan alone. The USA is also very happy to export its aircraft. 66 countries, the Pentagon said in 2012, are currently likely to buy US drones.

"Wes Bush, CEO of gunsmiths Northrop Grumman, even praises President Obama for his energetic steps to increase arms exports."

Europe, which would like to launch its own drone program, has been buying or renting technology from its competitors for years. The French "Harfang", the snowy owl, is a variant of the Israeli Heron drone. The Germans have been leasing the Heron 1 for their Afghanistan mission for years.

In 2011, a Bundeswehr technician is working on a Heron 1 reconnaissance drone at the airfield in Mazar-I-Sharif (Afghanistan). (Picture alliance / dpa / Maurizio Gambarini)

"Hardly disguised, it's also about dollars."

"As a nation we have to choose. Do we support our allies? Or do we ask them to invest and develop these skills on their own?"

The second alternative did not make the USA safer, but it cost a lot of money.

"US industry has not had an opportunity to sell these skills and technologies. We have to learn that lesson."

France has also been using American Reaper drones, the "Grim Reaper", since January 2014. Over the Sahara, during the operation in the greater Mali area. Great Britain, Italy and the Netherlands have also bought the Reaper. The British reapers are armed.

A US combat drone of the type MQ-9A Reaper (picture alliance / dpa- U.S. Air Force / Brian Ferguson)

Germany plans to buy combat drones

The Bundeswehr has also been working in the background for years on buying combat drones. As early as August 2008, the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency informed the American Congress about a German request for five "Reaper" drones. Plus four mobile ground stations, support, training and spare parts. Total value then: over $ 200 million. In April 2013, another German preliminary request for three Reaper drones was even "theoretically approved" by Congress.

The only US drone that Germany has actually ordered so far turned into a political disaster. The mammoth drone "Eurohawk", a modification of the "Global Hawk", was to become the first German HALE drone - the technical abbreviation for high altitude, long endurance - for great heights and long endurance. The Euro-Falcon can fly for up to 40 hours at an altitude of 20 kilometers and circle around half the world in the process.

Federal Armed Forces envoys were allowed to marvel at the miracle thing for the first time in November 1999 at Edwards Air Force Base, California. Only the test flight was canceled: Due to software problems.

The Euro Hawk drone (Angelika Warmuth dpa / lno)

The military dreamed of a quantum leap in the SLWÜA - the signal processing, airborne, wide-ranging surveillance and reconnaissance. Here, as it is called in military German, there was a "skill gap". Airbus developed its own SIGINT - a signal intelligence - for the super eavesdropper. This system can locate and record radio signals of all kinds, it even registers the electromagnetic radiation from starting vehicles or the microwaves from radar systems and mobile radio systems. And that within a radius of around 400 kilometers. When the euro hawk flies over Kassel, the whole of Germany is covered. The amount of data is so huge that it has to be preprocessed on board. Parts of the encryption technology come directly from the US secret service NSA. In 2013 the Federal Audit Office diagnosed a "serious organizational failure" of the Bundeswehr.

The technology, one hears unofficially at Airbus, is great. The project fell victim to political intrigue.

Marcel Dickow, drone expert at the Science and Politics Foundation.

"If you want to let drones fly in civil airspace, then you have to politically ensure that the framework conditions for this are created in Europe, within the EU. The federal government has not done that. It is part of the committees, but it has not advanced. "

In fact, Europe has been struggling for years to reorganize air surveillance and the certification procedures for aircraft. There are numerous working groups and bodies.

"At the same time, the contract with the manufacturer, with the consortium, said that the system was to be approved for German, i.e. European, airspace. And the two do not go together."

The political prerequisites were just as bad as the technical ones, says Dickow. Because there is a hitch in the transatlantic relationship. The US does not want to divulge its know-how.

"When it comes to the technical requirements, it ultimately comes down to who has insight - or who is allowed to see which technology."

How would drones be controlled in European airspace?

The pitfalls in regulating European airspace seem almost symptomatic of Europe's drone problem. At EU level there is a wealth of working groups, workshops, an "RPAS user community", even a "club of drone users", founded by the European defense ministers. Germany is also represented. The European Defense Agency and Eurocontrol spend millions on research to develop new flight control technologies. But the EDA is toothless, it is said in Brussels as in Berlin - just a "paper tiger". Because there is no EU Commissioner, no Council of Ministers, no political will, no power behind it.

"We haven't really come very far in terms of strategic thinking in Germany and Europe."

Says a Brussels expert who does not want to be named. Most of the drone platforms are "high quality motor gliders". But Europe's defense industry feels threatened.

"The know-how of the fighter aircraft manufacturers has become 40 to 60 percent worthless overnight. Insignificant. But they still have to keep fighter planes in the air for a generation or two."

Especially since manned fighter jets like the Rafale, the Eurofighter and the F-35 are brand new. The industry is facing a revolution: Combat drones are still a long way off, and replacements for the current jets are decades away.

"In the past, cooperation worked best when it was clear that there was a quasi-endless money printing machine in the background, in other words: the cold war. And everyone, in the armed forces as well as in industry, gets what they want anyway."

Now the corporations get in a tight spot. Demand guarantees from politics. Because there are no longer enough national orders. The numbers are no longer correct. On the website of the armaments company Dassault, for example, you can read this - weakly claused -:

"In the next 20 years, the European combat aircraft industry faces three challenges: - the need to develop strategic technology; - the need to maintain excellent skills in areas in which European technical and core competencies have conquered; - the goal of European To give design bureaus work. "

"The development of drones in Europe is a perfect example of the non-functionality of the European security and defense policy. Despite years of efforts, despite existing institutions for such efforts, despite many talks, it has not been possible to negotiate between the individual governments you actually want and who should then build it. "

The industry is feverishly trying to push forward new projects. At the beginning of 2012, the French company Dassault presented a first model of the stealth drone NeuroN after five years of tinkering. Dassault chief technology officer Didier Gondoin showed up in front of a crowd with the flags of the countries involved: Italy, Sweden, Spain, Greece and Switzerland. The project is directed by the French arms procurement agency DGA. So far it seems rather symbolic.

A UCAV (unmanned combat aerial vehicle) drone NEUROn (afp / Bertrand Langlois)

And it is not the only European attempt. France and Great Britain are working together on the first unmanned, fully automatic European fighter jet UCAV. In 2009, the first flight tests took place at the Canadian Goose Bay Airforce Base. But the means are limited.

"One thing is that the consumers - the armies and the politics behind them - still think nationally and still want to keep their national industry as their property. In France much more than in Germany. But also in Germany always The other is the lack of a culture of cooperation in the military field in Europe. For many, it is simply inconceivable to become dependent on other partners within the framework of the EU or within the framework of NATO, although in many cases we already are . "

Dassault, Airbus and the Italian Alenia Aermacchi have been trying for years to forge a German-French-Italian alliance for the MALE2020 project. An acronym that stands for "future European medium-altitude, long-life drone". So a kind of Euro Reaper. The three corporations have repeatedly made representations to politics. Most recently in May 2014, when the three CEOs called for a political decision in Berlin, Paris and Rome. First of all, they want 60 million euros. For the "definition phase".

Defense Minister von der Leyen: Drones protect our soldiers

In fact, however, there has so far only been a non-binding declaration of intent between Berlin and Paris dated September 12, 2012 on the joint development and procurement of a MALE drone. And all kinds of explorations. The new State Secretary Katrin Suder, a former McKinsey director who is now in command of equipment and planning in the Defense Ministry, met her French counterpart Laurent Collet-Billon, General Delegate for the Armament of the French Armed Forces, for a MALE talk at the end of October. Results are not known.

"No other means is so well suited as a drone to accompany this patrol, to observe from the air what is happening, and if our own soldiers are in danger, then also to fight."

In May 2013, Federal Minister Thomas de Maizière declared that five unmanned aerial vehicles of the MALE class should be available to the Bundeswehr from 2016. Optionally armed. His successor Ursula von der Leyen made a decision in the summer of 2014: We will buy combat drones.

"If, for example, we in the Alliance go on a peace mission and ground troops are attacked, then it is necessary for their protection that a drone that sees everything that is happening can also offer our soldiers the necessary protection in the attack. That is the trigger the decision. "

As an "interim solution", the Department of Defense is considering buying the American Reaper. Or the Israeli Heron TP. Both weapons-grade MALE-class drones. In public, however, people keep a low profile.

Control unit for the "Watchkeeper" drone (Photo: Tom Schimmeck)

Also at the drone fair in Bordeaux - made of plastic, wood and paper mache - the models of various European projects can be admired. Plus some solo developments by various companies with names like "Watchkeeper" and "HammerHead".

"I can tell you: We don't have the strategic philosophy of working with one country or another."

Benoit Dussaugey, Executive Vice-President International, Dassault Aviation.

"We are an industrial company and do not make politics. We are ready to work together in Europe with all countries that would like to cooperate."

We respect Germany's hesitation, says the charming gray-haired gentleman.

"When we started developing combat drones, Germany declared that it had no interest in this area. So we turned to other partners. It's very simple."

The question remains about the European MALE drone.

"The drone that we would build with Airbus is a surveillance drone. At this stage it is not a combat drone. Or it becomes a drone with different specifications depending on the country during development. We respect the political will of Germany, none ... But I don't want to comment on that. "

Will that change?

"I think so. But very slowly."

He seems to be quite sure: Politicians will soon want it. The armaments man has tried out a number of alliances since the beginning of the century. He looks a little exhausted. But he smiles.

"If you want to win a market, several circumstances must always come together: a need, a financing and a political will. Today, I think the stars are right to do it. But I always respect my client's timing."

(YouTube channel of the US Department of Defense: Destruction of a rocket launcher operated by "criminals" in Baghdad on May 4, 2008 by a UAV - unmanned aerial vehicle - of the US military or coalition troops)

In the evening, a small crowd of demonstrators stood in front of barracks 106, eyed by some rather martial-looking police officers. "Drones are instruments of murder" is written on one of their banners. The trade fair visitors don't even look at them.

The second part of the article, "The Road to Automatic Death", will be broadcast on Monday, January 12th, at 6:40 pm.

"The new drone war" is part of a cooperation with ZEIT ONLINE. There, two Bundeswehr drone pilots spoke for the first time about their missions in Afghanistan. Thomas Wiegold, one of the interviewers, runs a blog on which the interview also appears.