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German, Dutch militaries agree to deepen cooperation: source

By Andrea Shalal

BERLIN (Reuters) - The German and Dutch militaries have agreed to further deepen defense cooperation this year by putting a German short-range air defense unit under the command of the Dutch military, a source familiar with the plans told Reuters on Friday.

The German defense ministry had no immediate comment on the agreement, which comes as Europe is seeking to expand defense cooperation on a broader level in the face of U.S. pressure to contribute more to its own defense under the NATO alliance.

"There is agreement that the German air defense unit will be put under the control of the Dutch air defense command in De Peel," the source said, adding that the arrangement had been concluded this week.

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The change is based on a broader agreement for a mixed German-Dutch 414 Tank Battalion, which is expected to be fully formed by 2019, according to the source.

The German and Dutch militaries have already knitted together closely some land forces and naval elements in what analysts and military officials say could be a model for deeper security cooperation in Europe in the future.

"The German military cooperates with the French, the Dutch and others, but the cooperation with the Dutch is by far the least complicated," said Tim Stuchtey, executive director of the Brandenburg Institute for Society and Security in Potsdam.

"This is a great example for how things can work in the future on the European level," he said.

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Rainer Arnold, defense policy spokesman for the Social Democrats in parliament, said the agreement underscored the importance of German-Dutch military cooperation.

"We welcome every step in this direction," he said. "We cooperate very well with the Dutch military."

Germany and the Netherlands also plan to jointly develop a new short-range air defense system as part of the expanded cooperation, according to the source.

No further details were immediately available.

The German military last week said it had decided to replace its ageing short-range air defense systems and help fill a gap in capabilities. [nL5N1FN6PW]

Germany and the Netherlands last year declared operational a new joint concept of operations for their Patriot air and missile defense systems that they said could be expanded to include other countries. [nL1N1AM139]

In a separate development, the German defense ministry this week informed lawmakers that it may not finalize a contract for a big medium-range missile defense program until after national elections in September, according to Tobias Lindner, a Green lawmaker and member of the parliamentary budget committee.

European missiles maker MBDA has been answering a raft of questions after its proposal to build the system came in billions of euros higher than the previous estimate of 4 billion euros ($4.5 billion). [nL8N1CN54F]

Germany in 2015 chose MBDA, jointly owned by Airbus Group, Britain's BAE Systems Plc and Italy's Leonardo Finmeccanica SpA to build the system, but set tough milestones for it to retain the contract.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; editing by Ralph Boulton)