In the middle of this year in Germany, a loud enough scandal broke out around the program to equip the Luftwaffe with new heavy UAVs. It was about the Euro Hawk program, the financing of which the leadership of the Bundeswehr decided to close. Let us try to understand what the essence of the claims of the parties was, and also what the real background to all this stories.
The unmanned reconnaissance aircraft Euro Hawk was created on the basis of the RQ-4 Global Hawk model of the American corporation Northrop Grumman. It is one of the largest drones currently in existence. The device is made according to the normal aerodynamic design with a low-lying wing of high elongation. The semi-monocoque fuselage is made of aluminum alloys. The wing and V-tail are made of carbon-based composite materials. The technical solutions used made it possible to create a UAV capable of flying for up to 30 hours at altitudes of the order of 20 thousands of meters.
Global Hawk is equipped with an integrated complex of intelligence and surveillance. The complex includes radar with synthetic aperture and the mode of selection of moving targets, as well as optical and infrared sensors. Radar, day and infrared cameras can work simultaneously, which allows to obtain a significant amount of information. To transmit information to the ground can be used several communication channels, including satellite.
The first flight of the Global Hawk BLAH of the initial version, designated Block 10, was made on February 28 of the year 1998. The latest drones of the Block 10 version were delivered to the US Department of Defense until June 2006. Based on this UAV, the Northrop Grumman company created several more modifications.
The 20 version of the Block differed from the initial increased wing span and carrying capacity. The first flight of the drone of this modification took place in April 2007 of the year, and the first delivery to the US Air Force in June of the 2008.
The Block 30 modification features a large wing span and an increased flight duration, which reached 32 hours. Even before the official adoption of the US Air Force in August 2011, the Block 30 version of the UAV was used during the Libyan campaign, where it began operating flights even before the first aviation blows. According to reports, a total of 42 UAVs of this modification should have been produced. Of these, 18 units are built and used or are in use by the United States Air Force.
The 40 version of the Block is the most up-to-date modification of the UAV, equipped with the Multi-Platform Radar Technology Insertion Program MP-RTIP. It allows you to explore in a wide area and search for moving targets at large distances. At the same time, according to the developers, the response time of the MP-RTIP radar is nine to ten times less than the standard radar, and its range exceeds the radar APY-7. The first flight of the drone version of the Block 40 made 16 November 2009 of the year.
Returning to the European, or rather German modification of the RQ-4 UAV, it should be noted that it is based on the Block 20 version, on the basis of which the European aerospace concern EADS, together with the American company Northrop Grumman, created the device, presented to the public in October 2009. The EADS radio intelligence equipment was installed on board the European version of the UAV, and information processing equipment of European development was installed at the ground control station.
The Euro Hawk program was funded by the German government, which spent about 559 millions of dollars on it. In total, the German Air Force had to get five UAVs Euro Hawk. However, these plans did not come true - in May of this year, the Minister of Defense of the country, Thomas de Mezieres, announced the closure of the program. At that time, one UAV had already been received, and the four remaining had to arrive before 2016.
Reason for cancellation
As the first of the officially announced reasons for refusing to continue the Euro Hawk program, it was difficult to certify this unmanned vehicle for flying in European airspace. According to some reports, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has stated that it will not allow UAV flights in the airspace over the European continent, since the drones are not equipped with certified airborne collision avoidance systems. As already noted, the flight altitude of these UAVs is about 20 thousands of meters, that is, two times higher than civilian airliners. However, there is a risk of collision during take-off, ascent, descent and landing.
Another reason to close the program later was the excess of the financial expenses planned for it, which threatened to almost double the original cost.
However, the co-developers of Euro Hawk from Cassidian stated that the German authorities were to blame for the failure of the project. “The risk associated with the admission of UAVs to flights in European airspace is solely the responsibility of the German government,” said Bernhard Gervert, chairman of the board of Cassidian, at the end of July 2013. According to him, from the very beginning all the project participants were well aware of the difficulties that had taken place.
News The closing of the Euro Hawk program did not go unnoticed in Germany, but turned into a rather loud scandal. The first alarm sounded the Federal Court of Auditors. The media, in particular, reported that the report on expenditures for the Euro Hawk project presented by the German Ministry of Defense was incomplete, and many pages are denied with reference to secrecy. The Accounting Chamber protested, and the ministry promised to provide full information by May.
Outrage reached the Bundestag. Deputies from opposition parties accused the defense minister of deliberately misleading parliament without providing information on Euro Hawk for several months. In particular, information about the threat of additional expenses was hidden.
Since the start of the scandal, Thomas de Maiziere has been silent for several days in a row. It was only at the end of May that he was forced to agree to provide, on a condition of secrecy, complete documentation on the draft to the Federal Court of Auditors.
The newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung called the situation a disgrace for the Ministry of Defense as a department and its sphere of support. Journalists of the publication aptly noted that the development of Euro Hawk lasts more than ten years and, despite the problems identified at an early stage, the drone project turned out to be more tenacious than all the ministers from the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), who were engaged in it. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper even expressed doubts that the minister would remain at his post.
However, Thomas de Maiziere immediately stated that he did not intend to resign. During the hearings in the parliamentary committee on defense in early June, the head of the military department stressed that he couldn’t reproach himself for the failure of the Euro Hawk UAV project.
Truth Is Out There
The reasons cited by Thomas de Mezieres, who pointed to the unresolved issues of the operation of this UAV in European airspace, as well as the increased costs of the program, are not quite serious. The first is that this problem is completely solved, which is shown by the experience of using other UAVs in European airspace. The second is that the excess of expenses does not look excessively large. According to estimates by the manufacturers of Euro Hawk, the additional costs associated with the admission of UAVs to flights are not 600 million euros, as previously reported, but 160 – 193 million euros.
It seems that the main reason for the abandonment of Euro Hawk was the reduction in military budgets provoked by the economic crisis, which made the military better consider the money and prioritize it in a new way. On this side of the ocean.
Firstly, during the implementation of the Euro Hawk program, it has managed to become somewhat morally obsolete. Secondly, Germany is participating in another project involving the widespread use of unmanned systems, the NATO ground observation target program (AGS). It also decided to use the BLA based on Global Hawk. However, it started a little later than Euro Hawk, so it uses a more modern modification of this device - Block 40, and not Block 20.
In May 2012, the NATO leadership signed a contract for the supply of five RQ-4. Moreover, despite the formally pan-European nature of this program, the burden of its main costs fell precisely on Germany. In this regard, the decision to cancel the contract for Euro Hawk looks quite logical, it just turned into a kind of "suitcase without a handle." Probably, an understanding of this circumstance began to arrive earlier, but it finally became ripe with the current German minister of defense, who reasoned that it was better to accept an unpopular, but necessary decision later than to delay the inevitable by another year or two. No wonder Thomas de Mezieres enjoys a reputation in Germany as an extremely reliable and efficient manager, ready for decisive action to restore order. At the same time, it is thought that the electronic reconnaissance equipment created by EADS as part of this project will be used in other developments.
Returning to the financial background of the abolition of the program, it is worth noting that the United States itself, also reducing defense spending, conducted a review of its unmanned programs, including Global Hawk. In particular, at the beginning of 2012, it was decided, in order to save, to completely abandon the further acquisition and operation of early versions of the RQ-4 UAV. At the same time, it was planned to suspend purchases of new UAVs, and to preserve the already received vehicles - to suspend and put in reserve.
Of course, such decisions could not be positively met in the US military industrial complex. As a salvage measure, it was proposed here to export previous versions of Global Hawk UAVs. In addition to Germany, Japan, Korea, Canada, and Spain also showed interest in Global Hawk systems. As you can see, the number of potential customers is very narrow, due to both the restrictions on the export of these systems from the US, and the considerable cost of these UAVs. Probably because of this, Northrop Grumman perceived the refusal of Germany very nervously.
For Northrop Grumman in this situation, the loss of such a stable partner as Germany from the number of customers and the fact that some claims of a technical nature were publicly voiced are unpleasant. This may adversely affect the image of the system and, accordingly, the prospects for further exports.