By Andrea Shalal
BERLIN, Feb 20 (Reuters) - The German Defence Ministry is evaluating a bid from Canada to buy a high-altitude surveillance drone that has been parked at a German air base for years after the cancellation of the Euro Hawk programme in 2013, with a further bid possible from NATO.
Canada has submitted a formal bid for the prototype aircraft, which was stripped of key equipment and demilitarised by the United States in 2017, a ministry spokesman said on Wednesday without providing further details.
Canadian media have reported that Canada could use the drone, built by Northrop Grumman, to monitor oil spills, ice levels and marine habitats in the remote Arctic region.
NATO, which is buying its own fleet of Northrop drones, is also considering a bid for the mothballed German aircraft but has not yet submitted it, said sources familiar with the process. NATO had no immediate comment.
There was no immediate reply from the Canadian government.
A sale of the drone would end an embarrassing chapter that raised concerns about the German military’s procurement process and triggered the transfer of former Defence Minister Thomas de Maiziere to another cabinet post.
Berlin told lawmakers last year that it had spent about 700 million euros ($793.5 million) on the Euro Hawk prototype, and the ISIS surveillance system built by Airbus.
Berlin initiated plans in 2000 to buy five Euro Hawk drones based on Northrop’s Global Hawk unmanned system at a cost of about 1.2 billion euros but later cancelled the programme because of cost overruns and problems obtaining certification for use in civilian airspace in Germany.
It had only received the one prototype aircraft that is now being sold.
Berlin is now negotiating with Northrop to buy several MQ-4C Triton drones for delivery after 2025. Northrop last year said the process could take years to complete.
German opposition lawmaker Andrej Hunko, a member of the radical Left party, said the government had declared the aircraft incapable of flight after the U.S. Air Force removed U.S. built radio equipment and other key systems when it demilitarised the aircraft in 2017.
“The airplane has salvage value at best,” he told Reuters.
“Any proceeds from the sale would be a drop in the bucket, compared with the huge amounts spent on the programme.”
For NATO, the drone could provide additional support to the fleet of five high-altitude unmanned Global Hawk planes it agreed to buy from Northrop in 2012 for $1.7 billion, along with transportable ground stations.
Industry officials said the Euro Hawk saga underscored problems in military procurement, noting that NATO’s sister aircraft regularly traverse German air space to conduct surveillance missions over the North Sea. They also have no blanket approval for use in German civilian airspace but use case-by-case permissions from air traffic authorities.
It was not immediately clear what steps would be needed to return the Euro Hawk prototype to flight. ($1 = 0.8821 euros) (Additional reporting by David Ljungren in Ottawa Editing by Riham Alkousaa, David Goodman and William Maclean)