Danish frigate suffered weapon system failure in Red Sea combat, captain says

By Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen

KORSOR, Denmark (Reuters) - A Danish frigate deployed to the Red Sea as part of a U.S.-led operation suffered malfunctioning of its weapon systems when attacked by drones operated by Houthi militants last month, the captain said on Thursday as the ship arrived in Denmark.

The failure, which until Thursday had only been reported by local defence media Olfi citing a confidential report by the ship's captain, prompted the government to dismiss its top military official Flemming Lentfer on Wednesday.

Defence Minister Troels Lund Poulsen said the dismissal was a result of a breach of trust, after Lentfer failed to inform the ministry in detail about the incident on March 9 when the frigate Iver Huitfeldt was attacked by Houthi militants.

Despite the malfunction, the frigate shot down four drones, the vessel's captain and commanding officer Sune Lund told Reuters.

"We had some system failure, or system degradation, which challenged a bit our engagement," Lund said without elaborating.

"But at no time during the engagement were we left defenceless. We had redundancies on board, so we were able to continue fighting and neutralising the threats."

The armed forces posted a dramatic video on social media showing the downing of the drones, the first time a Danish warship had been in direct combat since 1943.

The frigate, which returned to Korsor naval base on Thursday, had been deployed as part of the U.S.-led Operation Prosperity Guardian to help safeguard commercial sea traffic in the Red Sea. It was recalled early from the mission.

Defence Minister Troels Lund Poulsen and head of the Danish Navy Command Henrik Ryberg had on departure assured that the ship was ready and capable of the mission.

"Leaving the naval base, everything was good," Lund said, adding that the reason for the failure was still being investigated.

"I feel confident that all steps have been taken in order to mitigate the challenges that we faced during the night," he said.

Separately, an activated but faulty missile launcher on another Danish navy vessel docked next to Iver Huitfeldt on Thursday triggered the closure of airspace and shipping traffic in the Great Belt strait, one of the world's busiest sea lanes and the main maritime access to the Baltic Sea.

A founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Denmark scaled back its military capabilities after the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s.

The Nordic country has announced a major boost in military spending to achieve a NATO target of 2% of gross domestic product, from 1.4% last year.

(Reporting by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen; Editing by Devika Syamnath)