Sunday, 16 December 2018
BREAKING NEWS

Why Does This German Frigate Have Drone “Kill Marks”?

There’s a strange image floating around on Twitter showing a German Navy frigate with odd markings on its surface-to-air missile launcher. An undated photograph of the German ship FGS Lubeck appear to show the ship’s Sea Sparrow launcher with “kill marks” indicating it has shot down nearly ten drones.

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The photos were posted to Twitter by the account AegeanHawk, which routinely posts pictures and video of naval vessels in the Eastern Mediterranean. On Monday, August 27, AegeanHawk posted the the following tweet:

The picture shows Lubeck’s 76-millimeter Oto-Melara dual-purpose gun and Mk. 29 NATO Sea Sparrow surface-to-air missile launcher. The Mk. 29 holds up to eight Sea Sparrow missiles at a time. Sea Sparrow, a derivative of the Sparrow air-to-air missile, is a radar-guided missile capable of intercepting missiles and aircraft. An older missile system, Sea Sparrow is being phased out by most U.S. allies and military equipment customers in favor of a newer system, Evolved Seasparrow.

On the side of the Mk. 29 launcher is a silhouette of a Predator-style drone with ten tally marks next to it. The combination is typically used by military personnel to show the number of enemies shot down or destroyed. A previous tweet with images of Lubeck posted by the same account implies that the images were taken yesterday, on August 27.

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Twitter @AegeanHawk

What does it mean? That’s a bit of a head-scratcher. There are four possibilities:

Possibility #1: The tally marks are a cumulative total of target drones shot down by Lubeck over its career. Ten shootdowns is a lot of Sea Sparrow missiles expended and drones destroyed, and the German Navy is famously underfunded. Lubeck is 28 years old, and ten downed drones (and an unknown number of misses) sounds about right. If this is the case it’s a relatively new practice, as there are a lot of pictures of Lubeck floating around and the silhouette and tally marks are not visible in any of them.

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Possibility #2: Lubeck was recently part of some kind of German or NATO exercise involving countering drone swarm attacks and racked up ten kills in a relatively short amount of time. Russian military forces were attacked on the night of January 6, 2018, with swarms launched against Hmeimim air base in Latakia, Syria, and Tartus naval base. NATO naval forces have been operating off the coast of Syria for years, and it would make sense for the alliance to test its ability to respond to swarm attacks on warships.

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Lubeck in 2009.

Wikimedia Commons

Possibility #3: The images are faked and were fed into social media either as a joke or as propaganda. This does not seem likely as AegeanHawk is normally a credible source of information.

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Possibility #4: There have been secret drone attacks against NATO naval forces in the eastern Mediterranean were hushed-up. This is very unlikely and feeds into the worst conspiracy theorists on the the Internet. It would be extremely difficult to cover up such an attack, especially in a multinational organization such as NATO.

If there was some sort of undeclared war against NATO, there would have to have been at least two, if not more engagements. After all, the Mk. 29 launcher carries only eight missiles, but there are ten tally marks. Older missiles like Sea Sparrow frequently miss.

And if there were some sort of secret engagement, it would have happened very recently. Lubeck was up north near the Arctic Circle as recently as mid-June, and was nearby when another frigate, FGS Sachsen, was accidentally scorched by its own missile. But Syria has been relatively quiet. Recent missile firings might leave minor scorch marks or fouling on the Lubeck’s paint job, but the ship looks pristine.

The most likely possibility is #2. Lubeck and the rest of the ships in her class are old and on the verge of retirement, and and the Sea Sparrow missile is being phased out. It would make sense to use an older ship—and missiles at the end of their operational lives—to test how to respond to drone swarms. The exercise might have taken place while the ship was operating with Sachsen. Lubeck could have returned home to port, her crew painted the tally marks on the launcher, and then set out for the Eastern Mediterranean.

Minor mysteries like this often pop up, particularly on social media. This one in particular involving NATO, warfare’s latest fad, and taking place near an active war zone has the potential to spin into the dark world of conspiracy theories. It’s important to keep in mind that the most simple, least dramatic explanation is almost always the correct one. Did Lubeck shoot down ten drones? Most definitely. Was Lubeck attacked by a mysterious fleet of killer drones? Almost certainly not.

Here’s a video from AegeanHawk’s YouTube account showing Lubeck in roughly the same area, October 2017:

Source: https://www.popularmechanics.com/military/weapons/a22841407/german-frigate-drone-kill-marks/

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