As it turned out, the Euro Hawk program was an unmitigated disaster. European aviation authorities repeatedly refused to certify the giant drone to fly over the continent due to concerns about the risks it could pose to civilian air traffic. Fears that the unmanned aircraft could put civilian air traffic at risk in congested European airspace meant that European Aviation Safety Agency certification was only available for flights over unpopulated areas, and there was no guarantee that this would change in the near-term. With that in mind, the German military would not be unable to operate the aircraft from its own bases for either training purposes or operational missions.
Combined with major cost overruns and long delays, Berlin decided to scrap the program in 2013 after spending a total of $793.5 million. Amid the embarrassing fallout, the German Minister of Defense Thomas de Maizière defended his position under political pressure before stepping down from his position the same year.
Stripped of all military and mission equipment, the RQ-4E ended up in mothballs at Manching Air Base in Bavaria. A possible sale to Canada failed to materialize after Ottawa submitted a formal bid for the aircraft, despite not having any other similar drones in its inventory. It was reported in the Canadian media that Canada could have returned the drone to airworthiness and used it to monitor oil spills, ice levels, and marine habitats in the increasingly contested Arctic region. Exactly why this deal fell through is unclear, but, as The War Zone observed at the time, the drone lacked essential components, including its navigation and flight control systems, which rendered it unflyable without significant intervention and expenditure.
As for the German Armed Forces, they now pin their hopes on an all-new SIGINT platform, being pursued under the Persistent German Airborne Surveillance System program, or Pegasus.
De Maizière’s successor as defense minister, Ursula von der Leyen had originally wanted another unmanned platform based on the U.S. Navy’s MQ-4C Triton drone — yet another Global Hawk derivative — that could enter service after 2025. Unlike the RQ-4E, the MQ-4C was developed from the outset for civil certification.
Those plans changed last year when the ministry of defense instead opted for a manned solution, the Pegasus based on the Global 6000 bizjet. For the time being, however, no budget has been allocated to integrate the required SIGINT payload.
Originally, Germany’s Luftwaffe expected to get its hands on a first RQ-4E under the Euro Hawk program in 2012. Now, it looks like Germany is going to have to wait a little longer for its successor.
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