The ongoing tensions in the Red Sea are seeing the emergence of a new trend, the increasing use of Uncrewed Surface Vessels (USV) by Houthis to target vessels on the high seas. On Monday, U.S. military destroyed two explosive-laden USVs. The first instance of a USV use since the beginning of Houthi attacks on commercial shipping was in the first week of January, according to the U.S. military.
Comment | A search for deterrence in the Red Sea
“CENTCOM Self-Defence Strikes On February 5, at approximately 3:30 p.m. (Sanaa time), U.S. Central Command forces conducted a strike in self-defence against two Houthi explosive USV. U.S. forces identified the explosive USVs in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen and determined they presented an imminent threat to U.S. Navy ships and merchant vessels in the region,” U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) posted on social media platform X (formerly Twitter).
On the measures in place to thwart such attacks, the Indian Navy sources said force protection measures are in place for both surface and aerial threats in case such a threat was to arise.
On January 4, Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, commander of the international Combined Maritime Forces and also head of U.S. Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, said the “low-profile” USV came within a couple miles of U.S. Navy and merchant ships and exploded. This he said was the first time the Houthis had used an USV, since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war. Houthis had used USVs in the past. “We all watched as it exploded. No more details on that for right now,” he said then without getting into further details.
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The second instance was on February 1, when U.S. forces noticed a USV “heading toward the international shipping lane” and shot it down which resulted in “significant secondary explosions.”
On the measures in place for such contingencies, a Navy source said all frontline ships have anti-drone systems fitted onboard. India Navy has close to 12 warships in the Gulf of Aden, North and Central Arabian Sea for anti-piracy and maritime security duties, in the backdrop of Houthi attacks as well as increasing piracy incidents by Somalian pirates.
“Whether manned or unmanned platform doesn’t make much of a difference. The main aspect is the nature of the threat. There is detection by radar and optic sensors and there are gun mounts and close-in weapon systems among others in place,” the source stated.
From a perspective of aerial or surface threats, there is constant radar surveillance, surface surveillance, and there are fire control systems attached to them, and also visual and optic sensors, the source explained. In addition, when on deployment there are regular look outs as part of standard procedures, the sources said adding, “These cater to any surface and aerial threats.”
However, these USV add another dimension of threat perception to commercial shipping which have in the last few months been targeted by missiles and one-way drones. With the continuing and even escalating U.S.-led coalition attacks on Houthi military targets in Yemen as well as airstrikes against Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the Quds Force and affiliated militia groups in Iraq and Syria, there is no end to volatility in sight