German defence minister sacks aides after procurement gaffes

BERLIN (REUTERS) - Germany's defence minister has sacked her secretary of state and another official responsible for defence procurement - part of her pledge for a shake up after high-profile projects were hit by spiralling costs, technical hitches and chronic delays.

Ms Ursula von der Leyen, a conservative tipped as a potential successor to Chancellor Angela Merkel, took over the ministry - one of the top jobs in the German cabinet - last December.

Berlin is seeking to play a more engaged role in global foreign and security policy under Ms von der Leyen and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

"My experience of the last weeks is that we need a new start with new personnel, so that all in this ministry can feel the change," she told reporters on Thursday.

"The aim is to arm our soldiers with the best equipment possible and taxpayers' money must be used more transparently and efficiently."

Ms Von der Leyen sacked Ms Stephane Beemelmans, secretary of state for procurement, and Mr Detlef Selhausen, head of the procurement department.

"We expect our defence engineering industry to deliver reliably - on time and with good quality. In turn they can expect dependability from the German Armed Forces as a buyer. We can all improve on this," Ms von der Leyen said.

The defence minister is in charge of a 33 billion-euro (S$57 billion) budget, 185,000 soldiers and 70,000 civilian employees. She was praised by German media at the time of her appointment as a politician with the toughness needed for a difficult job after a series of projects ran over budget.

Germany backed away last May from a 1.2 billion euro plan to buy four more Euro Hawk high-altitude reconnaissance drones, saying that meeting the standards required to win German, as opposed to United States aviation approval, would cost an extra 500 million to 600 million euros.

The German armed forces have one prototype Euro Hawk, which is based on the Global Hawk unmanned drone that Northrop builds for the US Air Force. The drones are made by Northrop and European aerospace company EADS.

This week Germany also cancelled its planned purchase of a further 37 Eurofighter jets, according to defence sources, after ordering 143. The jets are made by a consortium of BAE, EADS and Finmeccanica. The price in 2011 stood at 57 million euros per plane.

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