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German Navy Tried to Shoot Down an American Drone Over the Red Sea

Hessen escorts a merchant ship in the Red Sea, March 2024 (Deutsche Marine)
Hessen escorts a merchant ship in the Red Sea, March 2024 (Deutsche Marine)

Published Mar 3, 2024 9:33 PM by The Maritime Executive

 

Last week, a German Navy warship accidentally opened fire on an American drone over the Red Sea when the crew mistook it for a hostile target. The German mission is operating under an EU mandate, outside of the command and communications structure of the U.S.-led Operation Prosperity Guardian. 

According to a German military news outlet, Augengeradeaus, the crew of the German frigate Hessen spotted an unknown drone on Tuesday night and attempted to confirm its identity. Communications with other allied operators "didn't work," German defense spokesman Michael Stempfle told the outlet. The Hessen opened fire with two SM-2 long-range antiaircraft missiles to take down the threat. However, both of the high-spec missiles "missed their target for technical reasons," the outlet reported. 

The unidentified target was in fact an American MQ-9 Reaper surveillance/attack drone, flying without its transponder turned on. It was not damaged and continued with its mission, an American defense official confirmed to several media outlets. 

“CENTCOM is in close coordination with the EU and Operation Aspides to investigate the circumstances that led to this event and to ensure safe deconfliction of airspace,” the official told Defense News.

Other warships in the area were not aware of the Reaper's flight plan; corrective measures have already been implemented to prevent a recurrence, Stempfle said.

On Wednesday, Hessen shot down two inbound Houthi drones - one with a short-range air defense missile, the other with her 76mm cannon. The selection of response method indicates that the drones were within a few miles of target. This is at least the third time that Houthi drones have approached to within gun range of an allied warship since the counter-Houthi mission began. 

Hessen is assigned to the newly-launched EU Operation Aspides ("shields" in ancient Greek). The separate mission is intended as a European counterpart to the American-led Operation Prosperity Guardian, serving the same air defense and policing goals but with a separate chain of command. In addition to Hessen, Operation Aspides can draw upon the French frigates Alsace and Languedoc, the Greek frigate Hydra, and the Italian destroyer Caio Duilio and frigate Federico Martinengo.