French Chopper ‘Shoots Down’ Houthi Drone Over The Red Sea; 1st Public Acknowledgement Of ‘Helo Kill’

The West is throwing all its might to contain the onslaught of Houthi rebels. Recently, the French Navy shared a video showing a naval helicopter using machine gun fire to swat down a Houthi drone over the Red Sea. This is the first public acknowledgment of a helicopter being used to shoot down a Houthi drone.

Besides the helicopters, the allied forces have deployed F/A-18 Super Hornets and missiles to counter the drones deployed by the Iran-backed rebels to terrorize the merchant vessels in the Red Sea.

France has been a key partner in the coalition to counter the attacks that started in October 2023.

The official EUNAVFOR Aspides, the European Union’s naval task force, confirmed the shootdown. The force was created to protect commercial shipping in the Red Sea.

“On March 20, while conducting close protection under EUNAVFOR Aspides in the Red Sea, the embarked helicopter of a French destroyer shot down a Houthi UAV threatening the commercial navigation,” the coalition said on its account on X.

The French Armed Forces’ official account on X later shared the video of the incident.

Sharing the video, the General Staff of the Armed Forces said: “Interception by the (French) frigate’s helicopter of an aerial drone coming from Yemen threatening civilian maritime traffic in the Red Sea. The priority: ensuring freedom of navigation and maritime security from Suez to Hormuz.”

The footage was captured by the helicopter’s electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensors. The video began with frames of an unidentified merchant vessel before switching to the view of the Houthi drone skimming the sea surface. The unmanned aerial vehicle appears to be a Samad variant.

The helicopter flew along the drone before shooting it down with its door-mounted machine gun. The French Navy has not identified the name of the helicopter, however, speculations galore. A report by Info France 2 television is quoted to show that the helicopter in question could be a Eurocopter AS565 Panther operating from the Aquitaine class frigate Alsace, which was deployed in the region in January this year.

The Eurocopter has a 7.62 mm door gun. The French frigate can also carry the bigger NH90 helicopter. The French Navy has shot down several Houthi drones during its deployment in the region, but this is the first time a helicopter has knocked down a Houthi drone.

Countering Houthi Drones

Defense experts have been questioning the cost of countering the cheap Houthi drones with expensive missiles. However, France’s maritime commander for the Indian Ocean has defended the use of million-euro missiles to down Houthi drones, citing that it protects lives and assets and counter the sophistication of the threat.

The French Languedoc frigate patrolling in the southern Red Sea in December shot down multiple drones using Aster 15 missiles at a cost that defense analysts estimate at around €1 million (U.S. $1.1 million) per missile. The British Royal Navy’s HMS Diamond has also used the missiles to fend off drone attacks in the area.

“The cost is not that of the missile we use, but the cost of what we protect,” Vice Adm. Emmanuel Slaars said in a press briefing. Slaars said there was “no doubt” the Languedoc was targeted in an incident in early December when the warship used MBDA’s Aster 15 missiles to shoot down two drones coming from the direction of Yemen.

Houthi attacks on maritime traffic in the Bab el-Mandeb Strait have been effective, endangering a critical gateway for trade and the global economy. In the first half of 2023, the trade through the Suez Canal represented about 12 percent of global trade, including significant portions of container traffic, seaborne cargo, and liquefied natural gas shipments.

Screengrab from Video

The Houthi rebels are using shipping-tracking data to identify potential targets, then fly observation drones to scout vessels before attacking them with drones and anti-ship missiles.

France has contributed to the multinational naval task force known as Operation Prosperity Guardian, at least for some time. This task force aims to respond to the threat posed by Houthi attacks on shipping in the Red Sea.

Later, it refused to operate under US command. This led to the creation of the EU’s Aspides task force, of which France is a part, alongside Germany, Greece, and Italy.

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