BERLIN: Germany's parliamentary budget committee on Wednesday backed plans by the military to lease Israeli-built Heron-TP surveillance drones in a deal valued at around 1 billion euros (US$1.18 billion), committee sources said.
The deal had run into resistance last year from the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), junior partners in Chancellor Angela Merkel's grand coalition, because the drones could be armed in the future.
The German military currently uses a different model of Heron drones that cannot be armed.
Merkel's conservatives and the SPD agreed in a new coalition accord in February to lease the drones, built by Israel Aerospace Industries, through 2027, but to defer a decision on any future arming until after parliament had debated the issue.
The plans includes two separate contracts - one with Airbus , which will manage the drone programme, and one with the Israeli government to cover training, infrastructure and logistics for the planes, which will be stationed in Israel.
The leasing programme is intended as a temporary solution until a European drone is ready for use around 2025.
Lieutenant General Ingo Gerhartz, chief of staff of the German air force, said the deal would allow significantly better protection of German troops.
The Greens party voted against the plan, saying that 50 million euros of the contract were already earmarked for a technical preparation for future use with weapons.
"The big promised debate about the arming of the drones is a farce given what's already included in this contract," said Greens lawmaker Tobias Lindner, a member of the budget committee.
(US$1 = 0.8487 euros)
(Reporting by Sabine Siebold; Writing by Andrea Shalal; editing by John Stonestreet)