Germany’s future UAV capabilities have been hanging in the balance for quite some time, but the German defense ministry says that phase will be over soon. A decision on the short- to medium-term plans is due by the end of the third quarter.

German armed forces have been using Israel Aerospace Industries’ (IAI) Heron-1 UAV. A leasing deal for three units has been extended by two years, until October 2014. The Bundeswehr is now looking at how to replace the Heron-1 for an interim period until around 2020, which is when a European UAV might be available.

The ministry has asked General Atomics for a Predator B offer, but has not made the same request to IAI, which would like to place the Heron TP. Sources in Israel’s defense establishment nevertheless claim that the Bundeswehr is close to choosing it, with formal negotiations on the sale to take place soon.

Sources in Berlin say that the Predator B offer request should not be considered an indication of where things are headed. A further extension of the Heron 1 lease agreement is also a possibility, one source claims.

The need for a large aircraft with flexible potential is considered an urgent requirement for the Bundeswehr’s contingency plans. The German forces deployed in Afghanistan are already making use of the Heron-1, as a result of a deal between IAI and Germany’s Rheinmetall Defense.

IAI executives expect that the recent decision from the French defense ministry in favor of acquiring the Heron TP will encourage other European armies, primarily Germany, to buy the aircraft. IAI’s Heron, also named “Eitan” by the Israel Defense Forces, is the largest UAV manufactured in ­Israel, with a wingspan similar to that of a Boeing 737.

German Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière is the main proponent for the acquisition of a large UAV for the Bundeswehr. The longer-term perspectives for a joint European project are unclear, following the recent cancellation of the Talarion.