Report: Danish Frigate's Weapons Malfunctioned During Houthi Drone Attack

The crew of the Ivar Huitfeldt shot down four drones despite serious weapons system issues (Forsvaret image)
The crew of the Ivar Huitfeldt shot down four drones despite serious weapons system issues (Forsvaret image)

Published Apr 3, 2024 3:27 PM by The Maritime Executive


The Danish frigate Ivar Huitfeldt is on her way home a bit early from her air-defense mission in the Red Sea. The warship shot down four Houthi drones while in theater - but her commander was concerned about her ability to shoot down too many more, according to Danish outlet Olfi. 

The paper obtained a message from the Huitfeldt's commanding officer that described multiple shortcomings in its weapons systems. The frigate's air-defense missile system experienced a glitch in the middle of a hostile engagement on March 9, apparently because of a software issue in the interface between its fire-control radar and its combat management system. The crew switched to a backup radar and worked around the problem, according to Dutch maritime outlet Marine Schepen, but their most capable top-end radar remained unusable for half an hour. 

"Our clear understanding is that the issue has been known for years without the necessary sense of urgency to resolve the problem," the CO said in the message. 

Ivar Huitfeldt also ran into apparent problems with ammunition quality. It successfully downed the drones with its 76mm deck gun, a common auto-feeding model that is used by navies worldwide. But about half of the proximity-fused rounds exploded just after leaving the muzzle, and never reached anywhere near the drones, according to the CO.

"All shells in standard combat equipment are more than 30 years old, they have been retrofitted with a '2005 proximity fuze' . . .  which appears to be unsuitable for actual combat," he wrote. 

Since the warship had to use far more of these shells to down the targets, the CO warned that the Huitfeldt risked running out of ammunition at an inopportune moment, potentially reducing the ship's survivability. 

Ivar Huitfeldt was expected to remain in the Red Sea through mid-April, but by March 25, she had transited the Suez Canal and arrived at Souda Bay, Crete. After resupply and shore leave, Huitfeldt returned to Denmark, arriving earlier this week.

The frigate's technical issues have turned into a political firestorm for Denmark's government. The defense minister, Troels Lund Poulsen, first learned of the problem when media inquired about it on Monday night, according to DR. He has relieved Chief of Defense Gen. Flemming Lentfer of command, effective Wednesday. 

Danish Navy insiders told DR that the crew of the Huitfeldt had had to borrow the 76mm guns for their warship from other frigates before departure, and could not rule out that this may have increased the risk of a malfunction.