On 7 March this year, an announcement was made which, when further investigated, tells a great deal about the whole issue of German post-Cold War defense spending. The story behind Germany’s efforts to replace its Airborne SIGINT (Signals Intelligence) capability is a perfect example of what is currently wrong with how Germany prioritizes and spends its scarce defense Euros.
The IOC of the “state of the art” SIGINT UAV was originally supposed to be 2015. Unfortunately, things did not work out as planned. The Euro Hawk, to everyone’s embarrassment, didn’t get the proper clearance to fly in German airspace, and after millions of euros spent, the program suffered a four-year delay, and then-German Defense Minister de Maizière was forced to resign in 2013.
However, major “military-industrial programs” backed by lobbyists in Berlin, really never die. They just quietly reinvent themselves in the face of little critical parliamentary oversight. The latest and final iteration is to use the USN version of the Global Hawk; the Triton. Money spent up until 2016: €600 Million (including €270 Million for ISIS development). Assuming no overruns, the additional cost of the program (including three Tritons and additional ISIS/ Euro Hawk testing) will be another €900+ Million, and an IOC of 2025 which will surely slip.
What does Germany get for its money, and going with the “industrial solution?” Germany is no longer part of the USAF SIGINT upgrade path as the UK and other NATO and Allied countries. It now has to depend on German resources alone for its sensor package, to maintain currency (if possible) on the latest Russian software/cryptographic and hardware upgrades, and countermeasures.
It has a large unmanned platform which is anything but covert and would have to request overfly rights to go to many regional areas of interest. A platform which will have to be re-designed to carry the essential EO/IR sensor, and one that was simply not designed for the SIGINT mission. It is telling that when Australia recently decided to select the Triton for its long-range naval surveillance role, it pointedly refused to consider a SIGINT version of the UAV. Why should they? They are buying manned SIGINT aircraft (business jets) as part of the global U.S. system which Germany left in 2010?
Germany can proudly tell the new Trump Administration that not only are we “acquiring a new SIGINT system as part of our increased defense spending, it’s American as well!” Such self-praise rings hollow. Germany has done itself no favors. It has imposed a 15-year (and counting) SIGINT gap on itself, it has spent (cynics would say wasted) almost € 2 Billion on an inflexible platform designed for wide area ocean surveillance; not SIGINT over central Europe, and it has left the U.S.-led SIGINT group to which they belonged for forty years.
It is no wonder that the smaller NATO countries shake their heads when this subject comes up. The German’s smaller, very capable, SIGINT aircraft can covertly prowl around areas like the Crimea, and rescue refugees in the Mediterranean while German/U.S. industry and government employees celebrate another “Triton design review” in San Diego.
Germany is a modern, leading industrial power. There is no excuse for Germany not spending the political capital to allow for increased defense spending to the agreed upon 2% of GDP NATO spending goal. The Peace Peek story is only one example of wasteful defense spending based on industrial, rather than military priorities.
Another example which easily comes to mind is the A400M where a French engine was mandated over the proven Canadian engine; resulting in continuing delays and problems. While the Euro Hawk/Triton program makes soothing headlines about increased German defense spending, and “Trans-Atlantic cooperation,” it is a wasteful boondoggle which will cost scarce resources, and, if ever fielded, do little to increase German nor NATO’s security in the face of increasing Russian threats.
John Beckner is a Defense and Aerospace Consultant and has been living and working in Europe (Brussels/Munich) since the late 1980’s. He has been a keen observer of European and NATO defense policy; both in industry and working for the U.S. Government.
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