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Denmark’s government has fired the country’s defence chief after embarrassing revelations about faulty air defences on a frigate it sent to the Red Sea to fend off Houthi attacks on commercial shipping.

Flemming Lentfer was sacked late on Wednesday night after failing to report to the defence minister that the Iver Huitfeldt had experienced a half-hour long malfunction of its missile and radar systems during a drone attack last month. The ship was recalled early from its mission.

“I have lost trust in the chief of defence,” said Troels Lund Poulsen, Denmark’s defence minister, who found out about the incident from a specialist military outlet, Olfi. “We are facing a historic and necessary strengthening of Denmark’s defence forces. This places great demands on our organisation and on the military advice at a political level.”

The dismissal of its top defence official comes as Denmark is massively ramping up its defence spending in response to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and aims to meet Nato’s target of using 2 per cent of GDP on the military this year. Poulsen warned in February that Russia could attack a Nato country within three to five years.

The Danish malfunction comes amid a series of mishaps in other Nato armed forces, including a UK nuclear missile failing a test for the second time in a row and Germany’s obsolete communications systems and use of an unsecured line to discuss sensitive matters, which was tapped by Russian intelligence.

Much remains to be cleared up about the Danish incident, including what exactly went wrong on the frigate, who in the defence ministry knew what, and why the minister himself was not informed.

“I am deeply shaken. There is something similar to an open war between the ministry and the defence command,” said Carsten Bach, defence spokesman for the opposition Liberal Alliance party.

Denmark’s defence forces in March said the Iver Huitfeldt had successfully shot down drones flown by Houthi rebels over the Red Sea.

Sune Lund, captain of the frigate, was quoted as saying: “At a little after 4am local time we recognised a drone which was heading towards Iver Huitfeldt and the surrounding ships. After making sure it was an enemy, we engaged and defeated it. Over the next hour this happened three more times.”

But Olfi reported a completely different story on Tuesday, saying that a confidential report from the captain said that the lives of the 175 crew on board had been put at risk after its air defence system failed for 30 minutes during the drone attack. Some of the missiles it fired had also exploded prematurely. The report added that some of the problems had been known for years, Olfi added.

Danish media reported that the defence ministry was informed of the problems in mid-March, but that Poulsen himself did not learn about them until this week.

The Danish defence ministry on Wednesday also admitted that howitzers and rocket launchers it had ordered would arrive a year late and up to DKr1bn ($150mn) over budget, highlighting the difficulties in European rearmament.

European countries are rushing to increase arms production, refill stocks and secure long-term military aid for Ukraine ahead of Donald Trump’s possible return to the White House in November’s US presidential elections. But military officials on the continent say the attempts are being complicated by surging inflation and the weakened state of Europe’s defence industry.

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