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Spanish Navy deploys counter-UAV system on Santa María-class frigate for the first time

The Santa María-class frigate Canarias with the now-removed Meroka CIWS above the hangar. The frigate has embarked a counter-UAV system for the first time. (Spanish Ministry of Defence)

The Spanish Navy has deployed a counter-unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) system on the Santa María-class frigate Canarias (F 86) for the first time ahead of the frigate's deployment to European Union Naval Force's (EU NAVFOR's) Operation ‘Atalanta' in the Indian Ocean.

Announcing the frigate's departure from Rota on 15 February the navy said that “in this deployment, and for the first time, the ship will operate specifically designed defence assets to counter the new unmanned air threats”. The addition of the counter-UAV system is likely a response to the increased threat profile in the region as a result of the attacks against commercial shipping in the Red Sea by Yemeni rebel group Ansar Allah (commonly known as Houthis).

While the navy has not specified what type of system was embarked, a video subsequently posted by the service on social media platform X (formerly Twitter) appeared to indicate that the system would include a portable counter-UAV rifle. The video, posted on 24 February, showed Spanish Navy crew members operating a portable Dedrone DroneDefender counter-UAV system at sea on what appeared to be a Santa María-class frigate.

DroneDefender is a soft-kill countermeasure rifle originally developed by the US not-for-profit Battelle and subsequently enhanced and developed by Dedrone. The system is designed to disrupt GPS signals, disabling the use of automated navigation while blocking pilot control through multifrequency disruption. Spain acquired the system in 2017 for use by its forces in Iraq.

However, the DroneDefender system may not be the full extent of the counter-UAV systems embarked. In a subsequent statement on Canarias'

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