1st ‘Double’ Combat Kill For France! French FREMM Warship Shoots Down ‘Terror Drones’ With Aster 15 Missiles

Aster 15, the anti-aircraft missile from the MBDA group, which forms the cornerstone of Europe’s naval and land-based air defense programs, saw its first combat engagement when the French Frigate Languedoc used it to bring down two drones fired against it from Yemen on December 11.

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French Defense Minister Lecornu made this announcement in a hearing at the French Senate. “Two drones coming from Yemen deliberately targeted, according to us, our multi-mission frigate Languedoc, which was carrying out a patrol in the Red Sea under the authority of the Admiral for the Indian Ocean based in Abu Dhabi, on a maritime security mission.

“Aster 15 missiles were launched in self-defense to destroy the two drones. This was done (successfully) and therefore protected the boat and the crew alike,” the minister said.

This marks the first combat engagement of the Aster 15 missile by MBDA and the first actual air defense engagement by a FREMM frigate. The missile has a range of approximately 30 kilometers and a speed of MACH 3, or 3700 km/ht.

MBDA developed the Aster Group of missiles for France’s, the UK’s, and Italy’s navies. In January 2023, France and Italy contracted Eurosam to deliver Aster air defense missiles for 2 billion euros (US$2.18 billion). Eurosam is a consortium of MBDA France, MBDA Italy, and Thales. Jointly, the two countries will procure close to 700 of these anti-aircraft missiles.

Aster’s terminal dart is a lightweight, highly maneuvering, and agile missile equipped with a high-performance active RF seeker. Its aerodynamic control, coupled with direct thrust vector control called “PIF-PAF,” gives the rocket high maneuverability. This also increases hit-to-kill capability. It can destroy fighters and supersonic anti-ship missiles, even those flying close to the sea surface.

Aster 15 is vertically launched and autonomously guided to provide the best means of coping with saturating attacks. Due to very short missile preparation time and very high speed, the Aster weapon system has a rapid engagement capability.

Aster missiles are in service on the latest vessels of three of Europe’s significant navies: Italy, France, and the United Kingdom. Aster missile naval air defense systems are also in service.

France has been carrying out maritime freedom missions in the region, with 20,000 ships transiting through these areas, including many French ships. The French defense minister categorized this zone as “a particularly hardened zone with all the challenges that Iran poses” along with its proxies.

The Red Sea, stretching from Egypt’s Suez Canal to the narrow Bab el-Mandeb Strait separating the Arabian Peninsula from Africa, is an important shipping route for trade and energy supplies. That’s why the US Navy has stationed multiple ships in the sea since the start of the Israel-Hamas war on October 7.

The attack on the French ship comes as Iran-backed Houthi forces in Yemen continue to attack ships in the Red Sea, contending the vessels are linked to Israel. Yahya Sare’e, the spokesman for the Houthi military, released a series of posts on X, saying Yemen would block all ships that head to or from Israel.

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The ongoing war between Israel and Hamas has spilled over to the Red Sea, where Houthi rebels in Yemen have been launching attacks against ships of every flag.

Recently, the Strinda, a Norwegian motor tanker, was hit by “what is assessed to have been an anti-ship cruise missile launched from a Houthi-controlled area of Yemen. Geir Belsnes, the chief executive of Mowinckels Rederi, the shipping company that owns the Strinda, confirmed that the vessel, carrying feedstock for biofuel and bound for Italy, caught fire after being hit by a missile.

The Houthis, a rebel group long entangled in a civil war in Yemen, has launched a series of drone and missile assaults on Israeli and American targets since Hamas killed at least 1,200 people on October 7 in southern Israel.

File Image: Via MBDA

Last week, President Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said that the United States discussed setting up a naval task force to guard ships traveling through the Red Sea with allies.

US warships have also intercepted missiles and drones coming from Yemen, either aimed at Israel or posing a threat to American vessels. The USS Carney, a Navy destroyer, intercepted three land attack cruise missiles and several drones that were launched by Houthi forces toward the northern Red Sea in November 2023.

On November 15, the USS Thomas Hudner, another destroyer, was sailing toward the Bab-el-Mandeb strait when the crew saw a drone, reportedly originating in Yemen. The drone was promptly shot down.

  • Ritu Sharma has been a journalist for over a decade, writing on defense, foreign affairs, and nuclear technology.
  • She can be reached at ritu.sharma (at) mail.com
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