French Frigate Shoots Down Two Drones Over Red Sea

The destroyer USS Carney shoots down a Yemeni-launched drone over the Red Sea, Dec. 2023 (USN)
The destroyer USS Carney shoots down a Yemeni-launched drone over the Red Sea, Dec. 2023 (USN)

Published Dec 10, 2023 10:25 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Saturday night, a French warship shot down two drones over the Red Sea, adding to a growing list of encounters between Western warships and UAVs launched from Yemen. 

In a statement, the French general staff reported that the frigate Languedoc identified and destroyed "two identified threats" that were "headed straight towards her." The intercepts occured several hours apart, first at 2300 hours local time and then again at 0130 hours Sunday. 

The encounter occurred about 60 nm off the coast of Hodeidah, Yemen, far from any shore. Yemen's Houthi rebel faction is known to possess Iranian-built Samad, Shahed and Ababil suicide drones, which have more than adequate range to reach across the Red Sea. These are relatively low-tech, inexpensive devices: the estimated price of a Shahed-136 is in the range of $20,000.   

A video released by the U.S. Navy on Saturday shows that the drone shootdowns are an expensive endeavor. The video, produced by the crew of the destroyer USS Carney, shows the ship launching multiple SM-2 or Evolved Sea Sparrow missiles from its VLS cell launchers. Depending on purchase batch and missile type, these rounds are priced at about $1.0-2.1 million, about 50-100 times the price of a Shahed-136.

The White House has said that it wants to form a new coalition of international partners to assure maritime security in the region. The new group would draw on the membership of the American-led Combined Maritime Forces coalition, and White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said last week there have been conversations with "several key partners that are interested in coming aboard." It would be the third international maritime security partnership for the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, in addition to the EU-led EUNAVFOR Operation Atalanta and the CMF's existing CTF-153. 

The U.S. Treasury has also announced sanctions on a network of Iranian-backed money launderers who have funneled funds to the Houthi movement. However, the White House has stopped short of re-designating the Houthi faction as a terrorist organization. The Houthi rebels were on the terrorist list until February 2021, when the Biden administration removed them. 

In a statement Saturday, a Houthi spokesperson warned that all Israel-bound ships may be subject to attacks. 

“If Gaza does not receive the food and medicines it needs, all ships in the Red Sea bound for Israeli ports, regardless of their nationality, will become a target for our armed forces,”

The Houthi group continues to hold the car carrier Galaxy Leader and its crewmembers as hostages near the port of Al Salif. Videos produced by Yemeni influencers suggest that the ship has become a tourist attraction, and even young children have been ferried out to visit the seized vessel.