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Lawsuit grounds Israeli-German drone deal

Legal challenge by US competitor may stall Berlin’s plan to lease Eitan UAVs for months

The Eitan drone, also known as the Heron TP flies during a display at the Palmahim Air Force Base in Israel, March 7, 2007. (AP/Ariel Schalit/File)
The Eitan drone, also known as the Heron TP flies during a display at the Palmahim Air Force Base in Israel, March 7, 2007. (AP/Ariel Schalit/File)

Germany’s plan to lease Israeli drones has been put on hold after a legal challenge by US weapons manufacturer.

In January, German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen announced the plan to lease Israel Aerospace Industries’ Eitan (“Steadfast”) Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. The drones, also known as Heron TPs, have a range of over 7,400 kilometers (4,600 miles), and can remain airborne for more than 70 hours.

This lease was intended to serve a temporary need until 2025, when Germany, Italy and France expect to complete development of a joint drone.

However, on Monday, US firm General Atomics, maker of the Predator B drone, filed a lawsuit with the German higher court in Duesseldorf, according to a Reuters report. The company initially challenged the drone deal in June, questioning why Germany was leasing Israeli drones rather than purchasing the cheaper Predators. The German cartel office rejected that bid on August 17.

The latest lawsuit may take months to resolve, effectively putting the Israel deal on ice.

“This move by General Atomics is very unfortunate and frustrating, especially since our legal position was upheld by the (cartel office) with very clear words,” a senior German defense acquisition official told lawmakers in a letter, according to Reuters.

General Atomics spokeswoman Melissa Haynes said that the legal challenge was meant “to ensure that this procurement is conducted as a fair and open competition; thereby ensuring that the German Ministry of Defense procures the most technologically superior and cost efficient solution.”

Last September, the Indian government approved a $400 million (NIS 1.58 billion) deal to buy 10 missile-armed Eitan drones from Israel for the Indian Air Force, India’s Economic Times reported, calling it “a crucial acquisition that will enhance India’s cross-border military strike capability.”

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