The Houthi missile first penetrated the outer defense layer and approached the US warship, forcing it to activate the final defense layer to shoot it down.
Houthi forces in Yemen announced on January 31 that they had launched a series of cruise missiles at the US destroyer USS Gravely in the Red Sea to show support for Palestine and “protect the country and people of Yemen.” The US Central Command (CENTCOM) said it intercepted a Houthi anti-ship missile, recording no casualties or damage.
CNN news agency on the same day quoted four unnamed US officials as revealing that a Houthi missile passed through two layers of outer defenses and approached the USS Gravely within a range of more than 1.5 km, causing the ship to have to Activate the Phalanx Close-In Range Defense Weapons (CIWS) to shoot down.
CIWS is the final shield in the USS Gravely’s defense system. This is the first time a US warship in the Red Sea has had to activate the CIWS shield to deal with Houthi attacks. Previous missile and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) raids by the armed group were all intercepted at a distance of 12 km or more.
Tom Karako, director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), said that the fact that Houthi missiles can get close to US warships is a worrying sign. Even slow cruise missiles can fly more than a kilometer in just a few seconds, so commanders on US warships will not have much time to react if faced with such a close-range attack.
Iran, the Houthi’s main backer, is said to have transferred to the group a number of tactical intelligence and surveillance systems, allowing them to target cargo ships and warships in the Red Sea with precision.
However, an anonymous US official said that the fact that Houthi missiles penetrated the USS Gravely’s perimeter defense layer was not a sign that the group’s attacks had become more sophisticated, but did not give a specific reason.
Expert Karako also commented that the US warship fell into this situation because it had run out of interceptor missiles after using a large number to deal with recent continuous attacks by the Houthis. “US warships only have a limited number of missiles, so they cannot continue to defend like this,” he commented.
The US and its allies have recently abandoned passive defense tactics in favor of conducting pre-emptive strikes, destroying Houthi missiles and UAVs before the armed group can launch them into the Red Sea.
CENTCOM announced on January 31 that US forces had raided and destroyed a Houthi anti-aircraft missile preparing to fire after determining it was an imminent threat to this country’s aircraft in the sea. This is the first time the US military has targeted Houthi air defense missiles.