The German Ministry of Defence abruptly canceled plans to introduce a fleet of five Northrop Grumman RQ-4E Euro Hawk UAVs for high-altitude Sigint collection. The first aircraft, delivered in July 2011, was already flying on development tasks from Manching airbase near Munich. According to German media reports, the country has already spent €508 million of the planned €1.2 billion (in 2012 prices) to acquire the fleet, which was intended to replace aging Atlantic manned twin turboprops. The Euro Hawk was based on the Block 20 version of the Global Hawk; EADS Cassidian was providing the Sigint sensors and ground stations.
Under pressure to resign, German defense minister Thomas de Maziere promised to report the reasons for cancellation to the parliamentary defense committee in early June. His state secretary said, “The demonstrator could not be certified.” German defense officials told German media on the condition of anonymity that type certification and airspace integration problems were key factors. These had been apparent since late 2011, they added. Test flights from Manching have been conducted using special ATC clearance, with the aircraft departing controlled airspace at 47,000 feet. A total of 15 flights were planned. Schleswig-Jagel airbase in northern Germany was chosen as the operational base, away from dense air traffic routes.
Officials said that Germany is already committed to spending another €150 million on the project, but that certification and related costs could amount to €500 million. EADS Cassidian CEO Bernhard Gerwehrt told Bloomberg that the company’s Sigint suite (which accounts for €248 million of the funds expended to date) could be adapted to other aircraft. The Military Air Systems division of EADS has been trying, without success, to launch development of the Talarion, a surveillance UAS that would be designed specifically to meet emerging European certification requirements.
In a statement, Northrop Grumman said that it “has not received confirmation that the German Ministry of Defence is ending the Euro Hawk program. The system has demonstrated safe and reliable operations throughout the flight-test program, and can achieve airworthiness certification. Euro Hawk is the only system that can meet Germany’s requirement for high-altitude, long-endurance surveillance missions.” During a briefing at the ILA Berlin airshow last September, Jim Kohn, the program director for Northrop Grumman, said, “Certification is probably the biggest challenge.” He explained that after a risk assessment, the U.S. Air Force had been content to accept a basic certification of the Global Hawk at the system level. “But Germany has gone bottom-up, looking at every box, a painfully detailed approach,” he added. At the same briefing, an official from Germany’s Federal Office for Defence Technology and Procurement said that he had only just received legal advice that even the development aircraft must be certified.
The German decision casts doubt on the $1.7 billion NATO plan to buy five Global Hawks for the Alliance Ground Survillance (AGS) system. Some politicians in the German coalition government have called for the country to withdraw from AGS, to which Germany is by far the largest financial contributor. NATO plans to base the aircraft at Sigonella airbase in Sicily, from where U.S. Air Force Global Hawks already operate. But they do not fly across Europe, whereas the AGS aircraft might be expected to do so. The AGS program is planning to achieve Italian certification of the aircraft.