U.S. Carries Out First Preemptive Strike On Houthi SAM

Houthis do not possess a capable air defense network, but they do have SAM capability that has proven effective in aerial ambushes.

byHoward Altman|
Houthi SAM struck in Yemen.
29 January 2024, Yemen, Sanaa: Armed rebels of the Iran-backed Houthi militia take part in a demonstration against the USA and Israel, amid growing tensions between the USA and the Houthis following the latter’s several operations in the Red Sea. Photo: Osamah Yahya/dpa. (Photo by Osamah Yahya/picture alliance via Getty Images)
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U.S. forces for the first time destroyed a Houthi surface-to-air missile preparing to launch Wednesday, a U.S. defense official told The War Zone. The incident took place at about 3:30 p.m. local time, U.S. Central Command said.

“U.S. forces identified the missile in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen and determined that it presented an imminent threat to U.S. aircraft operating in the region,” CENTCOM said in a statement.

In addition to pre-planned attacks on Houthi targets in Yemen in response to their ongoing threats to shipping in the Red Sea region, the U.S. has carried out several preemptive attacks on Houthi anti-ship missiles preparing to launch.

A U.S. defense official declined to specify what the SAM was targeting “for operational security purposes.” A second U.S. defense official did not immediately know what kind of SAM was struck or how.

As we have reported in the past, the Houthis used Vympel R-27 air-to-air missiles converted to truck-mounted SAMs to attack Saudi aircraft in 2018. There was also intelligence at that time indicating short-range R-73 air-to-air missiles have also been adapted into SAMs.

The Houthis also have the Muhit, an anti-ship version of the Houthi Qaher-2 series of surface-to-surface missiles, which are in turn conversions of old Soviet SA-2 surface-to-air missiles. You can read more about that an the Houthi's wide array of anti-ship missiles in our deep dive here. It isn't clear if SA-2 variants are also active in an air defense role, but they would not be used in static rings like they traditionally are.

We also do not know what Iran has given the Houthis more recently in terms of additional air defenses. The Houthis have supposedly receive Iran's peculiar but potentially deadly 358 loitering surface to air missile system, that was supposed to have taken down an MQ-9 recently.

So, the threat from Houthi SAMs may not be extreme, but it is present.

The strike on the Houthi SAM comes a day after the Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer USS Gravely shot down a Houthi anti-ship cruise missile launched into the Red Sea. CENTCOM said that there was no injuries or damage from that incident.

This is a developing story.

Contact the author: howard@thewarzone.com

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