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Friendly fire targets US drone in Red Sea

The German frigate Hessen, which was deployed to the Red Sea as part of an EU mission, mistakenly fired on an American drone earlier this week, the German Defense Ministry said on Wednesday.

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Berlin had previously disclosed the Hessen’s first successful engagement, in which the vessel shot down two Houthi drones within 15 minutes of one another on Tuesday. 

On Monday evening, however, the frigate used two SM-2 missiles to target an unidentified drone, but both failed to hit the target, according to German Defense Ministry spokesman Michael Stempfle.

“The case was resolved in the sense that it was not a hostile drone, which only became clear afterwards,” Stempfle said.

Defense Minister Boris Pistorius confirmed Stempfle’s statement while visiting a military base in Bavaria on Wednesday evening, telling reporters that there had been an incident “in which shots were fired, but no one was hit.” 

According to the German military blog Augen geradeaus, the US-made missiles failed for “technical reasons,” which prompted the Hessen to use its 76mm main gun to engage the Houthi drones on Tuesday. The German warship then used short-range RAM missiles to shoot down another Houthi drone on Wednesday morning.

The Hessen had tried to identify the drone by reaching out to other friendly ships in the Red Sea, but no country claimed the UAV. It later turned out to be an “unreported” American MQ-9 Reaper, flying with its transponder turned off. Washington had not notified the allied warships of its mission.

The US and several of its allies have sent ships to the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden in an effort to stop the Houthis – the most powerful faction in Yemen – from attackin Israeli-linked shipping along the major global trade route. Houthi attacks on merchant vessels began in late October and the group said they would continue so long as Israel continued attacking the Palestinians in Gaza.

The Hessen is part of the EU’s mission in the Red Sea called “Aspides” (Greek for “shield”), which is intended to involve at least four frigates. It is separate from the US-led “Operation Prosperity Guardian,” also intended to protect merchant ships. 

The Houthis initially targeted only “Israeli-linked” vessels, but expanded their interdiction to cargo ships linked to the US and the UK, after ships and planes of the two countries began bombing Yemen in January. Most major global shippers have re-routed their vessels around Africa, as insurance premiums soared due to the increased risk.

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