- US Navy
At around 6 p.m. local time on Wednesday, a US Navy destroyer detected an incoming missile attack from territory in Yemen controlled by Iran-aligned Houthi rebels, the second such incident in the past four days, a Pentagon statement said.
The USS Mason, which was accompanying the USS Ponce, an amphibious-transport dock without the same missile-defense capabilities, took “defensive countermeasures” in response.
None of the incoming missiles hit the USS Mason or Ponce as it sailed in international waters north of the Bab al-Mandab, the Pentagon statement said.
This marks the second time in four days missiles from Houthi-controlled parts of Yemen have targeted US Navy ships, and the second time the US ships have responded by firing missiles to intercept the incoming salvos.
So far, the US has undertaken no direct military action against the Iranian-backed Houthi uprising in Yemen, however the Pentagon statement said the following:
“Those who threaten our forces should know that the US commanders retain the right to defend their ships, and we will respond to this threat at the appropriate time and in the appropriate manner. “
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The USS Mason and Ponce moved off the coast of Yemen after an October 1 incident where Houthi militants took responsibility for a missile attack that savaged the HSV Swift, a former US Navy ship used by the United Arab Emirates.
On Sunday, the USS Mason fired two SM-2 interceptor missiles – an Evolved Seasparrow Missile (ESM) used for closer threats and a Nulka antiship missile decoy – to counter missiles coming from Yemen.
Bryan Clark, a naval analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, told USNI News’ Sam LaGrone the event was “very significant.”
“It might be the first time the SM-2 was used against an actual threat for which it was designed,” Clark said. “It’s definitely the first time ESM has been used … This is obviously a huge deal.”
Now it appears the US Navy has had to repeat this extraordinary feat just days later.
The Houthis, who are battling the internationally recognized government of Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour al-Hadi, denied any involvement in the previous attempt to strike the USS Mason or the nearby USS Ponce on Sunday.
But US officials have told Reuters there are growing indications that Houthi rebels, who are backed by Iran, were responsible for Sunday’s incident.
- Khaled Abdullah/Reuters
The rebels appeared to use small skiffs as spotters to help direct the missile attack on the warship. A video claimed by the Houthis showed them using a similar tactic when they struck a United Arab Emirates vessel on October 1.
The US is also investigating the possibility that a radar station under Houthi control in Yemen might have “painted” the USS Mason, something that would have helped the Houthi fighters pass along coordinates for a strike, the officials said.
The Houthis, who are allied to Hadi’s predecessor Ali Abdullah Saleh, have the support of many army units and control most of the north, including the capital, Sanaa.
Reuters has learned that the coastal-defense cruise missiles used against the USS Mason on Sunday had considerable range, adding to concerns about the kind of heavy weaponry that the Houthis appear willing to employ and some of which US officials believe is supplied by Iran.
The SM-2 missiles used by the USS Mason cost just under $1 million each. It’s not clear whether the missiles intercepted the incoming threat, or if the missiles fired from Yemen simply failed to reach the US ships.