After several media outlets reported that technical issues prevented two of the three French Navy Fremm frigates deployed in the Eastern Med from firing their Missile de Croisière Naval (MdCN) cruise missiles, Army Col. Patrick Steiger, spokesman for the French Joint Chief of Staff, told Defense News on April 18 that "The first salvo did not fire.”
The firing incidents were first reported by the newsletter "La Lettre A" on April 17. This was the first operational use of the MdCN, a ship-launched variant of the SCALP air-launched cruise missile produced by MBDA.
The incidents may explain why French authorities declined to say which ship fired the missiles, and to explain why it deployed three FREMMs, escorted by an air-defense frigate, an ASW frigate and an attack submarine, when only one launched any missiles.
Tir d’un missile de croisière naval depuis une de nos frégates multimissions cette nuit en Méditerranée. Objectif : un site de production d’armes chimiques du régime syrien. pic.twitter.com/A4hO0EtkvQ— Florence Parly (@florence_parly) April 14, 2018
French defense ministry footage of a FREMM frigate, presumed to be FS Languedoc, firing MdCN cruise missiles at Syrian targets in the early hours of April 14.
This is in addition to uncertainties concerning one of ten SCALPs carried into combat by French Air Force Rafale combat aircraft. Fives Rafales took off from Saint Dizier air base on the April 13 strike mission, each carrying two SCALPs.
French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly said April 14 that nine SCALPs had hit their targets, but video footage released on her Twitter account later that day shows that none of the Rafales was carrying a missile when returning to base. It is not known whether the tenth SCALP misfired, missed its target, was shot down or was aborted after launch.
The French military spokesman declined to comment on why the French Air Force did not fire its 10th SCALP missile, as did the French air force.
The Royal Air Force, which deployed four Tornado GR4 strike aircraft also armed with two Storm Shadow missiles – its version of SCALP – each for the strikes, reported no incidents or failures.
Operational debut for MdCN
The French Navy had pre-positioned three FREMM frigates – FS Aquitaine, FS Auvergne and FS Languedoc -- in the Eastern Med, off the Israeli coast. These ships are the first to be equipped with the MdCN, and each is fitted with a Sylver A70 vertical launcher for 16 MdCNs.
La Lettre A first reported that “unexplained incidents” prevented the mission lead ship, FS Aquitaine, from firing any of its MdCNs, and subsequently the second one, FS Auvergne, as well. In the event, only the backup ship, FS Languedoc, fired three missiles which, according to Parly, all hit their targets.
Implicitly confirming the reality of the malfunctions, a source said April 17 that the fact that two ships failed to fire could point to a computer bug or a programming error, but declined further comment. Missile maker MBDA, shipbuilder Naval Group and the French Navy declined to provide an explanation.
French plans for the mission called for two of the three frigates to each fire a salvo of “more than three” missiles, the online daily L’Opinion reported April 17 quoting naval sources. However, only FS Languedoc could only fire three missiles in the allotted time slot after the mission lead ship, FS Aquitaine, failed to fire.
L’Opinion said it could neither confirm nor deny Lettre A’s report that a second ship also failed to fire. It added that the original plan probably called for France to fire a total of 16 missiles in total, but again this could not be confirmed.
-- April 18 at 18:00 CET : added caption to video, and inserted new third paragraph.
-- April 18 at 20:00 CET: edited story to reflect confirmation by French military spokesman.