By Claire Davenport
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Germany will stick to its commitment to help fund NATO drones, despite cancelling a plan to buy its own unmanned reconnaissance planes, its defense minister signaled on Tuesday.
"We have signed an agreement and Germany usually sticks to its agreements," Thomas de Maiziere said as he went into a NATO defense ministers' meeting in Brussels.
On May 14, Germany withdrew from purchasing Euro Hawk reconnaissance drones, made by EADS and Northrop Grumman, because of the cost.
De Maiziere will face a parliamentary committee in Berlin on Wednesday on the canceled drone project. Opposition politicians say that 680 million euros ($875 million) has been wasted on the project.
The decision not to buy the planes raised concerns over whether Germany would continue to back a NATO plan to acquire five high-altitude unmanned Global Hawks, also from Northrop Grumman, as part of the Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) project.
"We will now look at the consequences of the Euro Hawk decision on the AGS," de Maiziere said.
The German parliament's budget committee gave its approval last year to a 483 million euro ($630 million) contribution to the NATO drone project.
German opposition parties accuse de Maiziere, a close ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, of withholding information on the cancellation, four months before a general election.
German armed forces already have one prototype Euro Hawk and were considering buying an additional four drones. Germany had earmarked 1.2 billion euros for the purchase and development of the aircraft.
The army finally said it would not procure the drones because they did not meet security requirements.
The main challenger to Merkel in Germany's September election, Peer Steinbrueck, said on Tuesday that Germany did not need drones anyway.
"Against whom or what should these drones be pointed and deployed?" he said. "I have come to the conclusion that Germany doesn't need drones."
Northrop Grumman signed a $1.7 billion contract with NATO in May last year for a new surveillance and intelligence system that will include five drones and transportable ground stations.
Fourteen NATO members, including Germany, agreed to pay for the new system, due to be ready between 2015 and 2017, which NATO will then operate and maintain on behalf of all 28 allies, according to NATO's web site.
($1 = 0.7675 euros)
(Additional reporting by Stephen Brown; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)