French navy defends use of million-euro missiles to down Houthi drones

PARIS — France’s maritime commander for the Indian Ocean defended the use of million-euro missiles to down drones used by Yemen’s Houthi rebels to attack shipping in the Red Sea, citing the value of the lives and assets protected, and the sophistication of the threat.

The 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 ($1.1 million) per missile. The British Royal Navy’s HMS Diamond has also used the missiles to fend of drone attacks in the area.

The proliferation of cheap drones on the battlefield poses a challenge to Western navies, whose missile-based air defense tends to be effective but pricey. The economic calculus of ultra-capable interceptors, designed to counter expensive expensive anti-ship missiles or manned aircraft, quickly loses its appeal against drones costing thousands of dollars, analysts have warned.

“The cost is not that of the missile we use, but the cost of what we protect,” Vice Adm. Emmanuel Slaars said in response to questions by Defense News at Jan. 11 press briefing here. Slaars said there was “no doubt” the Languedoc was targeted in an incident early December when the warship used MBDA’s Aster 15 missiles to shoot down two drones coming from the direction of Yemen.