A French warship shot down two drones headed towards it from the coast of Yemen on Sunday, December 10, 2023. The incident marks an escalation in attacks from Houthi rebels against international naval forces in a key maritime region.
Timeline of Recent Attacks
Tensions have been building in the Red Sea region for months as Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have increasingly targeted commercial ships as well as military vessels:
|Houthis seized a UAE-flagged cargo vessel
|Multiple drone attacks on commercial tankers
|Houthis attacked a Greek oil tanker with a bomb-laden drone boat
These provocations have prompted stepped up naval patrols by the multinational Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) to protect shipping lanes. France has had a frigate deployed with CMF since December 2021 specifically to deter Houthi aggression.
Latest Attack Repelled
On Sunday morning, the French frigate Languedoc detected two inbound drones approaching its position in international waters north of the Yemeni port of Hodeidah. The warship quickly mobilized its defenses and intercepted both drones using its on-board Crotale surface-to-air missile system.
The Languedoc was able to shoot down the slow-moving drones before they posed a direct threat. But French military officials called the incident “a serious and unacceptable act” that justified the Languedoc’s presence helping secure freedom of navigation in the Red Sea.
While no group has yet claimed responsibility, the French military statement noted the drones came from the direction of Houthi-held territory along the Yemeni coast. This suggests it was likely a deliberate attack given the Houthis’ pattern of UAV harassment against naval forces near Yemen.
Key allies expressed support for France’s actions in neutralizing the potential drone attack. Both the United States and Saudi Arabia underscored the right of vessels to defend themselves against threats while transiting international waters.
However, the incident may further undermine struggling efforts by the United Nations to extend a ceasefire between the Houthis and Saudi-backed Yemeni government forces. There are concerns the Houthi leadership may interpret the downing of its drones as justification to escalate attacks on ships off Yemen’s Red Sea coast.
Outlook for Maritime Security
While this drone intercept succeeded, naval analysts warn the Houthis are rapidly advancing their unmanned strike capabilities with Iranian assistance. The rebel group can likely mobilize more pilots and fabricate additional drones to sustain harassment tactics against naval patrols and commercial traffic.
To counter this, Combined Maritime Forces has reinforced Gulf of Aden patrols this year with ships from the UK, South Korea, Pakistan, and Japan working alongside the year-round French frigate. More naval firepower ensures a quick reaction against future drone or boat attacks to maintain open Red Sea shipping lanes that are vital lifelines for trade and energy flows between Europe, Asia and Africa.
The Languedoc will remain on high alert for follow-on Houthi reprisals following this weekend’s drone shootdowns. But with experienced crews manning advanced sensors and weapons systems, the French frigate still holds a strong advantage against rebel unmanned capabilities for now. Nonetheless, absent a resumption of serious peace talks between the Yemeni parties, the risk of Houthi attacks spiraling into a wider regional conflict continues to intensify.
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