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By Andrea Shalal
BERLIN (Reuters) - The German and Dutch militaries have agreed to further deepen defence cooperation this year by putting a German short-range air defence unit under the command of the Dutch military, a source familiar with the plans told Reuters on Friday.
The German defence ministry had no immediate comment on the agreement, which comes as Europe is seeking to expand defence cooperation on a broader level in the face of U.S. pressure to contribute more to its own defence under the NATO alliance.
"There is agreement that the German air defence unit will be put under the control of the Dutch air defence command in De Peel," the source said, adding that the arrangement had been concluded this week.
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.
Rainer Arnold, defence 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 defence 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 defence systems and help fill a gap in capabilities.
Germany and the Netherlands last year declared operational a new joint concept of operations for their Patriot air and missile defence systems that they said could be expanded to include other countries.
In a separate development, the German defence ministry this week informed lawmakers that it may not finalise a contract for a big medium-range missile defence programme 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 (£3.6 billion).
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)