French Navy Helicopter Intercepting Houthi Drone Seen In New Video

A French Navy helicopter used machine gun fire to shoot down a Houthi drone over the Red Sea today. This constitutes the latest, and one of the more intriguing, means by which allied forces have downed Houthi drones during the militants’ anti-shipping campaign. France has been a key player in countering the threat posed by Houthi missiles and drones in the Red Sea since late last year. 

Conformation of the shootdown was initially provided by the official EUNAVFOR Aspides — the European Union’s naval task force created to protect commercial shipping in the Red Sea — account on X, with an accompanying still image of the drone prior to its destruction. Video footage of the event, from which the still was taken, was later shared by the official account of the French Armed Forces (Armée française) on the platform. 

“On March 20, while conducting close protection under EUNAVFOR Aspides in the Red Sea, the embarked helicopter of a French destroyer shot down a Houthi UAV threatening the commercial navigation,” the caption to the original tweet posted by the EUNAVFOR Aspides account reads. Said helicopter, patrolling in the southern Red Sea, “was guided by the destroyer to engage and destroy the drone with its machine gun,” a statement released by Aspides’ headquarters said, Reuters reports.

The footage was captured through the helicopter’s electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensors. In the opening frames, we see an unspecified commercial ship in view. 

French Armed Forces via X

The video then switches to a view of the Houthi drone, flying close to the sea’s surface, as the helicopter tracks what appears to be a Samad variant

French Armed Forces via X

Then, the perspective shifts again, with the video indicating that the helicopter flew alongside the drone to shoot it down with its door-mounted machine gun. The machine gun can be heard before the drone is no longer seen. 

French Armed Forces via X

There has been speculation as to what type of helicopter was responsible for the shootdown, which was not disclosed by French or EU sources, and from which warship it operated. Naval News posits that the helicopter was a Eurocopter AS565 Panther operating from the Aquitaine class frigate Alsace, which entered the Red Sea in late January. The Panther can carry a 7.62mm door gun. This class of ships often embarks the larger and more capable NH90, so that is another possibility.

An Airbus AS565 Panther helicopter attached to the French Navy Floréal class frigate FS Germinal (F735), lands on the flight deck of the San Antonio class amphibious transport dock ship USS Arlington (LPD 24), August 24, 2021. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class John Bellino/Released
A NH-90 helicopter assigned to the French Navy Aquitaine class frigate Provence lands on the flight deck of the Ticonderoga class guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam during a bilateral exercise, 2016. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class David Flewellyn/Released
Alsace at sea. Ministry of Armed Forces of France

Engaging hostile drones side-on, as the video posted by the French Armed Forces would suggest occurred during today’s Houthi drone shootdown, is a capability the U.S. Navy has at least demonstrated in the past, footage of which can be seen below.

While this is the first time any helicopter has downed a Houthi drone in this way, at least as far as we know, during the ongoing troubles in the Red Sea, the French Navy has shot down multiple Houthi drones within that body of water’s airspace in recent months. Within the past few days, a report from the Info France 2 television network showed what appears to be Alsace intercepting Houthi uncrewed aircraft in the region.

Regardless, taking down one of these drones with a burst of machine-gun fire from a helicopter is probably the cheapest way possible to engage them. In many cases, it can cost millions of dollars less than launching an interceptor at one. In the limited cases where these kinds of intercepts are possible, we may see more rotary-wing-on-drone action. It’s also important to remember that a drone’s warhead detonating after being shot with ball ammunition can still cause great damage to a nearby aircraft.

The French Navy has been an active player in the Red Sea since December of last year. For a time, at least, France was part of the international, U.S.-led task force Operation Prosperity Guardian (OPG), launched in December 2023 to combat the threat of Houthi missiles and drones on commercial shipping. 

Subsequently, however, France said it would not operate under U.S. command. Strains of this sort, as we reported previously, may have helped spur the creation of the EU’s Aspides task force, of which France is a part, alongside Germany, Greece, and Italy. 

With that said, however, the recent video footage reveals that hostile drones operating in the Red Sea can be taken out in all sorts of ways, beyond the use of expensive missiles.

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Oliver Parken Avatar

Oliver Parken

Associate Editor

Oli’s background is in the cultural and military history of twentieth-century Britain. Before joining The War Zone team in early in 2022, he was Assistant Lecturer at the University of Kent’s Center for the History of War, Media and Society in the U.K., where he completed his PhD in 2021. Alongside his contributions to The War Zone‘s military history catalog, he also covers contemporary topics and breaking news.