German frigate Hessen accidentally opened fire on an American drone, nearly costing the US another Reaper in its Red Sea fight

  • A German warship accidentally tried to shoot down a US military combat drone this week.

  • The frigate Hessen targeted the MQ-9 Reaper as it was on a mission around the Red Sea, a US official said.

  • A malfunction stopped Germany's missiles from striking the drone.

A German warship accidentally targeted an American combat drone that was operating around the Red Sea earlier this week, but a malfunction spared the US from losing another Reaper drone.

The Hessen, a Sachsen-class frigate, accidentally targeted the MQ-9 on Tuesday while the drone was on a mission in the vicinity of the Red Sea, a US official told Business Insider on Thursday, adding that the Reaper drone did not sustain any damage and the incident is under investigation.

Germany's armed forces confirmed there was an incident in an online statement that said the Hessen engaged a drone that lacked a "friend or foe" identification earlier in the week, and after coordinating with allied units in the area, the warship fired multiple missiles at the drone.

The missiles, however, did not reach the system due to a technical error in the warship's radar system, although Germany said the error was quickly identified and fixed. Berlin's Defense Minister Boris Pistorius also confirmed in a briefing that there was an incident where shots were fired at a reconnaissance drone, but nothing was hit.

An MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft piloted by Airmen from the 556 Test and Evaluation Squadron flies over the Nevada Test and Training Range and performs live-fire exercises with Air-to-Ground Missile-114 Hellfire missiles and Guided Bomb Unit-12 Paveway IIs, Aug. 30, 2023.

According to German military news site Augengeradeaus, which first reported the incident, the Hessen fired two SM-2 missile interceptors.

The incident preceded an engagement with the Houthi unmanned aircraft on Feb. 27. US Central Command, or CENTCOM, said American aircraft and an unspecified coalition warship shot down five one-way attack drones in the Red Sea while Germany said the crew of the Hessen successfully downed two drones in self-defense that evening.

If Germany had actually managed to shoot down the American drone, it would have marked the third time since early November the US military has lost a Reaper. The Houthis already managed to destroy two MQ-9s, most recently downing one last week off the coast of Yemen.

The Hessen leaves a harbor on Feb. 8, 2024.
The Hessen leaves a harbor on Feb. 8, 2024.Photo by Sina Schuldt/picture alliance via Getty Images

These drones, which cost tens of millions of dollars, can be well-armed with Hellfire missiles and precision bombs and are able to loiter for extended periods until targets like Houthi missile launchers are spotted.

They are used frequently. Beyond the incidents involving the Houthis, Russia has also harassed, broken, and forced these drones to crash on several occasions over the past year.

The Hessen recently entered the Red Sea as one of four frigates that are part of the European Union's Operation Aspides, which is aimed at protecting international shipping lanes from ongoing Houthi attacks, much like the US-led Operation Prosperity Guardian.

A US official told BI that following the MQ-9 incident, CENTCOM is working closely with the EU and Operation Aspides to investigate the circumstances that led to the engagement and "to ensure safe deconfliction of airspace." They added that the two operations continue to work alongside each other to protect freedom of navigation.

A missile launches from a US Navy destroyer in the Red Sea earlier this month.
A missile launches from a US Navy destroyer in the Red Sea earlier this month.Screengrab/US Central Command via X

Meanwhile, with this week's engagements — which saw Germany shoot down the two Houthi drones — Berlin joins the US, UK, and France in eliminating deadly threats launched by the rebels.

The US Navy's Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group has led this charge over the past few months, intercepting Houthi drones and missiles in the air while also destroying these weapons before they can be launched in preemptive strikes on Yemen.

Alongside these preemptive strikes, which are carried out unilaterally and on a routine basis, the US has also conducted several rounds of coordinated and widespread strikes with the UK against the Houthis. Most recently, on Saturday, the two countries hit 18 targets across Yemen.

Read the original article on Business Insider