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Departed to protect against the Houthis: The frigate “Hessen” on February 8th in Wilhelmshaven


Sina Schuldt/dpa

When it comes to naming the EU military operation in the Middle East to secure merchant shipping, member state foreign ministers are getting literal. “Aspides” – Greek for shield – is the name of the operation, a particularly dangerous one when compared to other current operations. For months, militant Islamist Houthis have been shelling merchant ships passing by off the Yemeni coast. The detour around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa is thousands of kilometers longer. Companies based in Europe have already had to reduce production due to delivery bottlenecks.

One hope is called “Hesse”. The federal government is sending the German “Saxony” class frigate into armed use – provided the Bundestag approves this Friday. The ship left Wilhelmshaven on February 8th.

Marine inspector Jan Christian Kaack spoke of the “most serious operation by a German naval unit in many decades.” But he also said: "There is no unit in the German Navy that is better prepared, better trained and better equipped." On Tuesday, Federal Defense Minister Boris Pistorius (SPD) wants to see for himself aboard the frigate in the port of Crete make. The big drum is being beaten.

A protective shield

Anyone who wants to take on the Houthis in Yemen does not engage in hand-to-hand combat. This was shown by an attack at the beginning of February: a rocket fired from Yemen hit a merchant ship southwest of the port city of Aden; A British security company said an explosion was reported on board the ship. The merchant ships are sometimes attacked with Iranian-made drones. The regime in Tehran is considered the main sponsor of the militia.

This is also why its use is considered dangerous. However, the frigate “Hessen” is prepared for exactly this, because it is not a ship designed for naval combat or sea battles. Rather, ships of the “Saxony” class were built to protect entire ship formations with aerial reconnaissance and air defense. "Under the protective umbrella of the 'Saxony' class, every ship is safe," says the Bundeswehr website.

What sounds like a promise is probably more of a belief - which is not entirely unfounded. The heart of the “Saxony” class frigates and the “Hessen” in particular is the radar and reception system. According to the Bundeswehr, the sensors of the “Saxony” class can detect more than 1,000 targets at the same time. This is made possible by a combination of radars such as the Smart-L, which, according to the Bundeswehr alone, can be used to monitor the airspace over the entire North Sea.

Even a barrage of rockets fired by the Houthis could hardly harm the frigate and the ships accompanying it. To put things in perspective, the frigate “Hessen” was already traveling with US Navy aircraft carriers to protect them from air attacks. According to the Bundeswehr, the ship is equipped with the appropriate weapons for all attack scenarios. This includes:

  • A

    main gun

    with a range of more than 18 kilometers

  • Two


  • Four heavy

    machine guns

  • Two

    launchers for anti-ship missiles

    with a range of more than 140 kilometers

  • A

    vertical launch system for anti-aircraft missiles

    with a range of more than 160 kilometers

  • Two

    launchers for short-range anti-aircraft defense

  • Two

    torpedo tube sets

    for lightweight torpedoes

  • Four

    decoy launchers

With this equipment, the frigate “Hessen” could attack targets far beyond the coastline. However, proactive strikes like those from the USA and Great Britain are not planned; The mandate sets strict limits on the use of weapons, and protective measures must be carried out "in full respect of international law, including the principles of necessity and proportionality."

An operation headquarters is to be built in Larisa, Greece, and Germany wants to provide staff for this purpose. Other EU countries also announced that they would send ships to the Middle East. As in Germany, the ships sent by Greece and Denmark are also frigates. Italy is sending a guided-missile destroyer towards the area of ​​operations in the southern Red Sea and the Bab al-Mandab Strait.

With agency material