Danish Frigate Deployment in Red Sea Encountered Missile Mishaps, Ammo Snags: Report

Foreign Affairs

Milan: New information has come to light about the state of the Danish frigate Iver Huitfeldt when it departed for the Red Sea in January, including crew concerns about inexperienced personnel on board and equipment not fully tested, according to a report released by the Danish government.

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The Danish Defence Ministry announced on March 26 that the warship was sailing home after completing its mission in the Red Sea as part of the US-led Operation Prosperity Guardian, during which it succeeded at downing four drones earlier that month.

Days later, reports emerged that the vessel had encountered problems related to weapons and mission systems which prevented the firing of surface-to-air missiles against the incoming aerial threats for roughly half an hour.

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“The crew of Iver Huitfeldt experienced challenges in conducting engagement with the frigate’s missile system as well as a high failure rate of 76mm artillery shells during the engagement of drones on March 9,” an unclassified version of the deployment review found.

The 13-page document states that trouble began in the Evolved SeaSparrow Missile launcher system, where an unknown error condition occurred after the firing of the first missile, which affected the ESSM second launcher, rendering them unable to engage for 30 minutes.

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Following this, the crew was found to have “inadvertently” triggered an additional error in the ship’s command and control system, further affecting the missile engagement. During its incapacity, the frigate was placed under protective radar coverage from an American warship and eventually relocated to a lower threat area north of the Red Sea.

“The complete launcher system has therefore been taken ashore after Iver Huitfeldt’s return to Denmark, where analysis is continuing in collaboration with the supplier,” the report said. The ESSM weapons are made by a multinational industry consortium led by RTX’s Raytheon. More than a dozen navies around the world have the missiles in their inventories.

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Contrary to initial claims made by some Danish media, the investigation concluded that there is no indication of deficiencies with the ship’s active phased array radar, made by Thales Netherlands. Regarding artillery malfunctions, the crew reported that those were primarily caused by the early burst of shells close to the ship or failing to hit the target. The frigate’s captain estimated that around 50% of the munitions used during the March 9 drone operation detonated early. The shells fired by the Iver Huitfeldt were from production batches made between 1989 and 1992, which investigators said had previously not encountered such problems in test firings.

While the country’s Defence Command maintains it did not receive any reports of operational concerns prior to the frigate deployment, a few details provided in the report appear to contradict this. The document notes that when the frigate underwent the British Fleet Operational Sea Training course, in December 2023, in at least two instances the crew faced challenges with data flow between the ship’s command-and-control system and the radar and fire-control system.

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Additionally, a day after leaving Denmark, the vessel’s commander shared in an assessment that the personnel situation remained “fragile due to inexperience in new crew members,” and that regarding the state of the equipment a “few concerns persisted, but appeared manageable.” These concerns were in reference to the installation of one of the ship’s guns and counter-drone system, which remained to be finalised and tested.

In one of the concluding sections, the report further states that prior to March 9, the Ministry of Defence Acquisition and Logistics Organisation had knowledge of an existing “software weakness” in the interface between the ships’ radar and fire control system. “It could cause the system to lock if a certain operator behaviour was detected, and this knowledge has probably to some extent been present in the naval command,” it said.