BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's military will acquire armed drones its Defence Minister said on Friday, reigniting a heated debate in Germany over the ethics of using such aircraft.
The drones would protect soldiers in dangerous situations, and offer precision and speed, Thomas de Maiziere told the German government's YouTube channel in an interview.
The drones were identical in legal, ethical and technical terms to manned aircraft because someone would still have to decide whether to attack, he said.
Germany would develop the new generation drones in conjunction with France, he said. German armed forces are currently using unmanned drones for reconnaissance in Afghanistan, where they are serving as part of the ISAF force.
"We have a gap in our capabilities which we want to close," de Maiziere said.
Prior to the official announcement, German opposition lawmakers had already condemned the purchase of armed drones, with the head of the Greens parliamentary group Juergen Trittin saying they could lower the threshold for military engagement.
Critics of drone strikes argue that they end up killing high numbers of civilians and that they are frequently launched across sovereign states' borders - far more than conventional attacks by piloted aircraft.
Most attacks with unmanned aerial vehicles have been by the United States. Britain and Israel have also used them, and dozens more states are believed to possess the technology.
Reporting by Alexandra Hudson; Editing by Jon Boyle