German drones pledged to Ukraine 'can't fly in winter'

Germany may not send drones to help monitor the Ukraine-Russian border as promised, in part because the surveillance aircraft doesn't work in very icy temperatures, a lawmaker said Friday.

The "Luna" unmanned aerial vehicle does not work at below minus 19 degrees Centigrade (minus two degrees Fahrenheit), the lawmaker said, confirming a Bild daily report.

Berlin, along with Paris and Vienna, has offered drones to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to monitor conflict-torn Ukraine's eastern border for incursions of Russian fighters and arms.

But senior German lawmaker Gernot Erler, coordinator for social cooperation with Russia and Central Asia, said he had "serious doubts" Germany would be able to take part.

"It's a technical problem of the Luna system that it can't be controlled reliably at temperatures below minus 19 degrees," he told public radio Deutschlandfunk.

Winter temperatures in the region would often plunge far lower at the operational heights of 3,000 metres (10,000 feet) and above, Bild had reported citing a military source.

Erler said there were other "major legal and political problems", including that a German armed military team would have to accompany the drone for a mission under OSCE auspices.

"This is difficult because Ukraine and Russia would of course have to agree, both are members of the OSCE," said Erler.

"I've got major doubts that this mission will actually take place," he said.

"We are quickly running out of time. The hurdles we face have not yet been overcome."

If the drone offer does flop, it would be the latest embarrassment for Germany, whose pledge to play a greater global role has been hobbled by a string of technical hiccups with defence equipment.

Aircraft problems delayed German arms shipments to Peshmerga Kurdish fighters battling Islamic State group jihadists in Iraq and slowed aid shipments to Ebola-hit West Africa.

News website Spiegel Online said last month that just 41 out of 190 military helicopters were fit for service and painted a similar picture for fighter planes.

Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen acknowledged that Germany's military could not currently live up to all its NATO commitments because of equipment problems.

Von der Leyen, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and President Joachim Gauck have this year all called for Germany to take more responsibility in international crises, with arms if necessary.

Source: AFP
Date: Oct 17, 2014