German drone pilots eye Afghanistan... from Israel

Tue Jul 27, 2010 10:35am EDT
 
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By Dan Williams

EIN SHEMER AIR BASE, Israel (Reuters) - As World War Two raged in the years before Israel's founding, colonial British planes were scrambled here to fend off German forces.

Now the German Luftwaffe is back, preparing for a far more remote fight with the modern equipment and expertise of the Jewish state established after the Nazi Holocaust.

Worried by insurgent ambushes on its soldiers in Afghanistan and return fire that sometimes kills civilians or local allies, Germany last year ordered a small fleet of Israeli Heron spy drones designed to provide real-time images above a battlefield.

That has brought German jet pilots to coastal Ein Shemer air base for accelerated retraining on the unmanned propeller planes, already daubed with their flag and Iron Cross emblem.

"It's for the need of the ground troops, for our own protection, like convoy protection," said a Luftwaffe (airforce) major, who formerly flew a Tornado fighter-bomber on Afghan reconnaissance missions and could not be named due to military secrecy.

"In Afghanistan it's really hard to compare the good guys from the bad guys. So you have to surveil them a long time."

Israel is a pioneer of combat drones, having deployed them in Lebanon in the Palestinian territories. Heron's manufacturer, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), says it is also used by Canadian, French and Australian forces in Afghanistan.

Yet the fact Israeli know-how may now be saving German military lives offers up a unique historical irony lost on none.   Continued...

 
<p>An Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) instructor controls a drone at the coastal Ein Shemer air base near Hadera July 26, 2010. REUTERS/Nir Elias</p>