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posted by janrinok on Sunday March 03, @09:03AM   Printer-friendly
from the oops-no-its-OK dept.

The German frigate Hessen, which was deployed to the Red Sea as part of an EU mission, mistakenly fired on an American drone earlier this week, the German Defense Ministry said on Wednesday.

Berlin had previously disclosed the Hessen's first successful engagement, in which the vessel shot down two Houthi drones within 15 minutes of one another on Tuesday.

On Monday evening, however, the frigate used two SM-2 missiles to target an unidentified drone, but both failed to hit the target, according to German Defense Ministry spokesman Michael Stempfle.

"The case was resolved in the sense that it was not a hostile drone, which only became clear afterwards," Stempfle said.

Defense Minister Boris Pistorius confirmed Stempfle's statement while visiting a military base in Bavaria on Wednesday evening, telling reporters that there had been an incident "in which shots were fired, but no one was hit."

According to the German military blog Augen geradeaus, the US-made missiles failed for "technical reasons," which prompted the Hessen to use its 76mm main gun to engage the Houthi drones on Tuesday. The German warship then used short-range RAM missiles to shoot down another Houthi drone on Wednesday morning.

The SM-2 variants include radar seeker technologies in continuous wave and interrupted continuous wave guidance modes, tail controls and solid rocket motor propulsion to engage high-speed maneuvering threats and updated radar targeting and directional warheads.

Block IIIB enhances its predecessor's capabilities by adding autonomous infrared acquisition. The U.S. Navy plans to use this variant through 2035.

Global demand
Raytheon restarted its SM-2 production line after multiple countries pooled resources to make a "bundle" purchase. The company reconfigured and modernized its SM-2 missile factory to increase production efficiencies. It also signed new agreements with several suppliers.

The missile was originally made in the 1960s, while the newest re-design is from the 1970s. I assume the production restart has newish SMT equivalent of the original parts. Probably not going too well.

Original Submission

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  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by looorg on Sunday March 03, @10:16AM (13 children)

    by looorg (578) on Sunday March 03, @10:16AM (#1347182)

    So is the US selling Germany missiles that doesn't work against US targets? Or is this just showing that a 50 year old missile technology isn't so hot today vs modern targets (like modern drones) ...

    Still Germany is not having a great military week since they are apparently infiltrated, or have their communications intercepted, by Russian intelligence. Capturing German officers talking about Taurus missiles in the Ukraine and how they would pick targets and also accidentally mentioning that some other NATO members have staff in the Ukraine helping them with the gear they have received and such ... oops ...

    • (Score: 5, Informative) by janrinok on Sunday March 03, @11:11AM (4 children)

      by janrinok (52) Subscriber Badge on Sunday March 03, @11:11AM (#1347189) Journal

      My view is that this a malfunction of the missile system and not an active defence from the drone. The missile is using continuous wave and interrupted continuous [] wave to provide tracking and homing data. This can be countered but it does require some rather sophisticated EW equipment which would in turn require a significant amount of power. All perfectly possible but they would probably want to use the space, power and weight for more important equipment. Of course, it would also depend on where the drone was transiting to and what were the threats that they expected it to face. So, as I say, possible but not the most likely explanation.

      The Germans haven't said what the technical problems were (failure to arm the missile, incorrect missile storage and/or maintenance, or simply finger trouble) and the USA have not given their verdict on what might have gone wrong - but I don't expect them to divulge a weakness in the system anyway.

      Selling a missile that cannot be used at certain targets is a good way to reduce your customer base. If they cannot trust the missile to do what they bought it to do then they can look elsewhere for a manufacturer - unless there was some prior agreement that states that the USA can dictate to the customer what is deemed to be an acceptable target. And if it was as a result of defensive jamming then why would anyone rush to buy the missiles anyway if they are so vulnerable to counter-measures?

      As for your second point about communications being intercepted - the golden rule is to assume that they enemy are intercepting everything, and that encryption only buys you a slight advantage in time. Don't say anything on any communications device unless absolutely necessary. If the enemy has captured any of your equipment they will probably use it against you, and that applies equally to comms equipment and the codes that go with it. This problem is down to very poor comms discipline. I hope that the miscreants are made to understand that their stupid actions could easily have cost lives.

      • (Score: 1, Touché) by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 04, @08:53PM (1 child)

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 04, @08:53PM (#1347354)

        I think the implication was that the missile is designed to not hit US military assets. i.e. the reaper, and presumably most other US assets, gives off some secret signal that tells the missile "whoops, time for a technical fault".

        • (Score: 3, Touché) by janrinok on Monday March 04, @10:32PM

          by janrinok (52) Subscriber Badge on Monday March 04, @10:32PM (#1347372) Journal

          gives off some secret signal

          Firstly, if they are transmitting a signal it will not be secret for long.

          Secondly, once it is no longer a secret then the enemy can also use it. Your missiles are now useless.

          You will never sell any more equipment again.

      • (Score: 2) by pkrasimirov on Tuesday March 05, @09:03AM (1 child)

        by pkrasimirov (3358) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday March 05, @09:03AM (#1347418)

        I've heard F-35 cannot lock on F-22 but it makes sense that's way beyond the budget for decades-old missiles.

        • (Score: 2) by janrinok on Tuesday March 05, @09:30AM

          by janrinok (52) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday March 05, @09:30AM (#1347419) Journal

          There are many reasons why this might be - extreme range, stealth capabilities of the target, ECM from the target etc.

          None of these are known to apply to the drone in this story. The drone was detected, it was not using ECM (that would immediately be seen as a hostile act), and it was well within the stated capabilities of the missile system used.

          However, whether anyone ever tells us what the actual cause was it is all speculation. We don't even know if the reporting we have seen is complete, or even factual. There are several perfectly understandable reasons why the German or US governments would not want to reveal an operation problem.

    • (Score: -1, Troll) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 03, @11:28AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 03, @11:28AM (#1347195)

      So is the US selling Germany missiles that doesn't work against US targets? []

    • (Score: 4, Insightful) by VLM on Sunday March 03, @02:57PM (4 children)

      by VLM (445) on Sunday March 03, @02:57PM (#1347209)

      is the US selling Germany missiles that doesn't work against US targets

      Unironically I would say yes with the caveat that its tiny little drone targets. I'm sure it would work fine against a C-5.

      Intuitively it starts getting to be a challenge to detect "things" with a radar when the thing starts getting to the size of the antenna dish, and the drone might be itty bitty.

      You could in theory design an unusually high precision dish that operates at an unusually high frequency that would work unusually well detecting and impacting small objects. But then you have aiming problems and might lose target lock and its all impractical. So its probably "the usual ratios".

      If you google for SM-2 missile uplink there's an unclassified article at Johns Hopkins explaining how the ship that fires a SM-2 can uplink over S and X band, so whatever the seeker head uses is higher or lower to eliminate interference and lower would be too low res for even "real aircraft", probably, so probably K band radar? So if the radar wavelength is somewhat over a centimeter then some drone with wings less than a cm thick might not reflect much headon.

      Now, if I was developing a new naval SAM in the 2020s for 2020s threats instead of using something from the 70s, I'd try two interesting ideas. One is drone-v-drone, make a drone smart enough to bump into another drone or hit an incoming aircraft, that might work. Aircraft engines are designed to eat and mostly survive raw uncooked defrosted birds, not, perhaps, a COTS foot long carbide drill bit. Another idea is the smallest flying threat in 1970 was probably "tens of feet" across and now its about a foot across so I'd focus on 10x maneuverability and higher radar frequencies. Luckily EE tech for microwave RF has improved since the 1970s...

      • (Score: 5, Informative) by janrinok on Sunday March 03, @03:44PM

        by janrinok (52) Subscriber Badge on Sunday March 03, @03:44PM (#1347212) Journal

        Have you seen the size of a MQ-9A Reaper drone? This isn't some small cardboard thing or a 4-rotor toy.

        It has a 20m wingspan, is 11m long, and its maximum take off weight is 4763kg. While I understand what you might have thought it was, it is nothing of the sort.

        The problem was not seeing it - it did not have its IFF switched on! When flying near friendly forces that is a no-no unless you want to have an exciting day. Homing to it would not have been a problem if everything was working as it should. However, something wasn't working the way it was supposed to work. What we don't know (and might never be told) is exactly what that was.

        The SM-2 radar and missile system is designed to detect and destroy targets of a smaller size than a MQ-9A and can engage missile sized targets approaching head-on at low level.

      • (Score: 2) by turgid on Sunday March 03, @04:51PM (2 children)

        by turgid (4318) Subscriber Badge on Sunday March 03, @04:51PM (#1347218) Journal

        Aircraft engines are designed to eat and mostly survive raw uncooked defrosted birds, not, perhaps, a COTS foot long carbide drill bit.

        That's a useful bit of information. The UK's defences are such that if things kick off, I might find myself recruited to Dad's Army []. We're already talking about it and we're only half joking. Mind you, I'm not sure what good we can do against Russian nukes (assuming they actually work, of course).

    • (Score: 2) by Opportunist on Sunday March 03, @04:53PM

      by Opportunist (5545) on Sunday March 03, @04:53PM (#1347219)

      C'mon, buddy, at this point believing anything Russia publishes is at best naive.

    • (Score: 2) by quietus on Sunday March 03, @05:59PM

      by quietus (6328) on Sunday March 03, @05:59PM (#1347225) Journal

      The intercepted communication involved a third-party, based in Singapore -- the current suspicion is that that line of communication (with a partner outside of NATO) is where things went wrong.

      I note that Pravda had an article about how Scholz would not allow deployment of Taurus -- noting that Taurus missiles could strike the Kremlin -- at the same day that that Luftwaffe conversation took place (Feb 22).