Berlin: Germany may not send drones to help monitor the Ukraine-Russian border as promised, in part because the surveillance aircraft cannot operate in extremely icy temperatures, a lawmaker said on Friday.
The "Luna" unmanned aerial vehicle does not work at below minus 19 degrees Centigrade (minus two degrees Fahrenheit), Gernot Erler said, confirming a Bild daily report.
Germany, along with France and Austria, has offered drones to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to monitor conflict-torn Ukraine's eastern border for incursions by Russian fighters and arms.
But 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 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."
A defence ministry spokesman said of the drone's temperature limitation that "this is not a defect, it's physics".
Models used by other countries and the OSCE faced similar issues, he told a press conference, adding that the Luna model had been used in Kosovo, "on 5,000 flights in winter and summer".
The spokesman said that "it is theoretically possible to use it in the winter, you just have to watch every day what the weather conditions are like".
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.