The EU states have decided on the planned military deployment to secure merchant shipping in the Red Sea. Thursday's decision determines, among other things, the mission and location of the headquarters for Operation Aspides, as the German Press Agency learned from diplomats in Brussels.
Warships from an international coalition led by the US have been trying to secure the route along the Yemeni coast since December. The EU wants to join in with the “Aspides” mission, which the representatives of the member states are expected to decide on shortly. Three warships are planned along with accompanying aircraft such as helicopters and drones. These are intended to protect merchant ships in the Red Sea from attacks by the militant Islamist Houthis from Yemen. The mission does not involve attacks on their positions on land, as is the case with the "Poseidon Archer" mission by Great Britain and the USA.
The formal decision to start the EU mission is expected to be made at the next meeting of foreign ministers on February 19th. The Bundestag would then have to decide on German participation - this could happen in the last week of February. According to diplomatic circles, the mandate would initially be limited to one year.
The Houthi militia wants to force an end to the Israeli attacks in the Gaza Strip by shelling ships, which followed the unprecedented massacre by the Islamist Hamas in Israel on October 7th. Given the dangers, major shipping companies are increasingly avoiding the shortest sea route between Asia and Europe through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal. This now has a significant impact on the global economy. The USA and Great Britain have recently attacked Houthi targets in Yemen. However, the EU does not want to take part in such proactive operations.
The Bundeswehr wants to take part in the operation in the Red Sea with the frigate “Hessen”. It is one of three frigates of the so-called Sachsen class, which, among other things, is equipped with anti-aircraft missiles and was specifically designed for escort and maritime control. This also includes the flight operations team for two Sea Lynx on-board helicopters, whose main task is hunting submarines. The radar systems can detect more than 1,000 targets simultaneously within a radius of 400 kilometers. According to the Bundeswehr, a ship of this class could monitor the airspace over the entire North Sea. Their weapon systems can engage both close targets at a distance of up to ten kilometers and targets at a distance of up to 160 kilometers.
Marine inspector Jan Christian Kaack said that the “Hessen” would take on a “gatekeeping function” in accompanying merchant ships in order to intercept incoming missiles. For the German Navy, the mission is one of the most dangerous missions in its history. It was "the most serious deployment of a German naval unit in many decades," he emphasized. The ship with around 250 soldiers on board left the naval base in Wilhelmshaven for the Red Sea on Thursday.
The Navy is “very aware” that the ship is “into a concrete danger,” said Kaack. This means a high level of psychological and physical stress for the crew. The ship will sail on site “in the so-called war march” and therefore in constant alert.
However, the deployment is in German interest. Kaak emphasized that it is also about securing supply and trade routes for German industry. By relocating the warship, the Bundeswehr wants to create the conditions for German participation in an EU mission. An EU resolution and a mandate from the Bundestag are still pending - they are expected during February. The “Hessen” is scheduled to arrive in the operational area by the end of the month.
Experts warn of risks in the Red Sea. “The risk of escalation is great in Operation Aspides. It is an illusion that the Bundeswehr frigate will not come under fire and will not have to defend itself,” said Markus Kaim from the Science and Politics Foundation (SWP) to “Welt”. "This is an extremely dangerous operation for our soldiers."
Kaim also warned against expecting quick success. Nobody can expect that the Houthi rebels will stop shelling Western ships, he said. The probability is zero. If the EU is serious, it will have to stay in the region and protect ships for many years.