What questions does the attack on the frigate Languedoc raise? (1/2)

On December 9, 110 km from the Yemeni coast, the Languedoc frigate (D643) of the French Navy shot down two drones launched from the coast of Yemen, which were heading “straight towards the ship”. If this episode marks an escalation, at least on the French side, in the conflict today between Israel and Hamas, obviously supported by Iran and its minions, and if it demonstrates, without the slightest doubt, the excellence of the training, doctrine and equipment used by the French Navy, it also poses numerous questions which, far from being controversial, deserve careful examination in this two-part article.

Type of drone, weaponry used by the Languedoc frigate: many unknowns remain

To analyze this event, it is appropriate, first of all, to recognize that many unknowns remain. Indeed, for obvious security reasons, for the frigate itself, as for that of commercial ships cruising in the area, the press release of December 10, distributed by the General Staff of the Armed Forces, is intended to be reduced to essential.

aster 15 shot from a fremm frigate
Departure of an Aster 15 surface-to-air missile from an Aquitaine-class frigate

We therefore do not know what type of drone was used by the Houthis, and therefore their performance and their targeting and detection capabilities. The EMA press release designating the threats as drones, it is easy to imagine that the frigate was able to obtain data on the targets, such as their speed and data links, allowing us to be affirmative in this area.

Let us also note, to put an end to certain controversies, that even if the Languedoc frigate had been equipped with CIWS systems (close anti-missile protection), less expensive to use than the supposed Aster 15 used here, it is probable that the ship would have done use of these same missiles against these threats. No commander agrees, in fact, to endanger his ship by letting a threat get closer, to save some ammunition, unless he is forced to do so.

Aster 15 missile, 76 mm cannon or jamming: what system was used against Yemeni drones?

As such, it is also unclear what weapon system was used to neutralize the two Houthi drones. The most likely hypothesis is obviously the Aster 15 surface-to-air missile, which would have, for the occasion, carried out its baptism of fire. But the French frigate has two other systems capable of neutralizing these drones.

The first is the 76mm Oto-Melara SR cannon, qualified to engage aerial targets up to 8 meters and naval targets beyond 000 km. The second system is based on the jamming and electronic warfare systems on board the frigate, such as frequency jamming which would be capable of cutting the drone's data link with its terrestrial control, or even its possible (and very unlikely) radar seeker.

Aquitaine-class frigate
Gray plan on the foredeck of the Aquitaine class frigates, with the 76 mm Oto-melara cannon and the 4 SYLVER systems.

Note in this respect that, for a long time, the French Navy considered that the powerful jammers and decoy launchers arming its frigates constituted sufficient, and more effective, defense than the CIWS systems of the moment, such as the American Phalanx and RAM.

Targeting of French frigate by Houthi forces raises questions

A second question arises, concerning this episode. Indeed, the French frigate operating 110 km from the Yemeni coast, therefore under the electromagnetic horizon, targeting the ship was anything but obvious for the Houthi operators.

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