TechDenmark's navy crisis: Faulty frigates force command from port

Denmark's navy crisis: Faulty frigates force command from port

Iver Huitfeldt-class frigate
Iver Huitfeldt-class frigate
Images source: © Ministry of Defence of Denmark
Łukasz Michalik

2 July 2024 08:38

Two out of three Danish Iver Huitfeldt-class frigates are out of order. Meanwhile, from 11 July, Denmark is supposed to assume command of NATO's SNMG1 task force. Therefore, the Danes want their frigate to perform the flagship role while docked in port, with ships from other countries operating at sea.

This unusual solution stems from a scandal revealed in April 2024. It was then discovered that two Danish Iver Huitfeldt-class frigates – Iver Huitfeldt and Niels Juel – have faulty armaments. The attempt to cover up the problem cost the position of the commander of the Danish Armed Forces, General Flemming Lentfer.

The issue came to light during the Iver Huitfeldt ship's mission in the Red Sea. Although the frigate shot down four Houthi drones, the ship's primary anti-aircraft weapon – RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles (ESSM) launching from vertical launch systems Mk 56 – did not work.

In an emergency, the 76-mm OTO Melara gun was used. However, it was discovered that some of the shells exploded immediately after leaving the barrel, posing a threat not to the enemy but to the ship and its crew. Consequently, the boat was hastily withdrawn from service.

Also, at the beginning of April 2024, another Danish frigate – Niels Juel – caused the closure of the Baltic Great Belt Strait. This resulted from a malfunctioning Harpoon missile launcher, which activated during a test and could not be turned off, creating the risk of an uncontrolled anti-ship missile launch.

Commanding from port

Denmark is supposed to take over command of the NATO task force SNMG1 (Standing NATO Maritime Group 1) on 11 July. This requires designating one of the frigates as the flagship, from which the entire unit will be commanded. The Iver Huitfeldt and Niels Juel frigates were meant to perform this role alternately from 11 July to 5 November.

Since both frigates remained out of order, the Danish military command recommended that they not go to sea. Instead, the Danes proposed an unusual solution to NATO: commanding SNMG1 from Danish naval bases with one of the frigates remaining in port.

The rationale for this idea is that the Danish ships' communication systems function correctly. This allows for the establishment of a command post on the frigate docked in port, from which a unit of vessels operating at sea will be commanded. This will be a temporary solution—once the problems with the armaments are resolved, one of the frigates will join the rest of the NATO task force.

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