Houthi Forces Keep Deploying Anti-Ship Missiles and Drone Boats

File image: U.S. Central Command personnel monitor the fire aboard the product tanker Marlin Luanda, January 29 (USN)

Published Feb 11, 2024 2:01 PM by The Maritime Executive

After repeated American strikes against Houthi weaponry, the militant group continues to field anti-ship missile and drone capabilities to threaten traffic in the Red Sea. In the early hours of Monday morning, the group conducted another attempted missile strike: maritime security sources report that the group sent two ballistic missiles into the water near a merchant ship just north of the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb. 

Houthi forces claimed responsibility for the attack later in the day. Spokesman Yahya Saree named the vessel in question as the Star Iris, a Greek-owned, Marshall Islands-flagged bulker. 

Using Iranian-supplied weaponry and targeting assistance, Houthi forces have demonstrated a credible anti-ship capability, launching repeated strikes against merchant ships and warships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. The group's antiship missiles have hit multiple vessels, causing extensive damage, and have come close to striking many more. Twice, Houthi munitions have managed to penetrate first-line air defense measures and get within range of the close-in weapons systems (CIWS) of allied U.S. and UK destroyers. 

Given the potency of the threat to international shipping, the Biden administration has authorized the use of force against Houthi positions on the ground when required for "self-defense" purposes. U.S. Central Command has kept up a steady drumbeat of strikes on Houthi mobile missile launchers, suicide drone boats and one-way attack drones in Houthi territory, before the group has a chance to carry out further attacks. 

On Saturday afternoon, from 1600-1700, CENTCOM forces struck two unmanned drone boats and three mobile antiship cruise missiles at positions north of Hodeidah, a Houth-controlled port city on the Red Sea. 

U.S. Central Command assessed that these munitions posed an "imminent threat" to U.S. Navy vessels and merchant shipping. "These actions will protect freedom of navigation and make international waters safer and more secure for U.S. Navy and merchant vessels," the theater command said in a statement. 

Houthi leadership claims to be carrying out its campaign against shipping interests in order to apply pressure to Israel's allies and secure a ceasefire in Gaza. The group claims to have strong popular support from Yemeni citizens.