The US Navy faced the largest battle in the Red Sea
US aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (right) in the Persian Gulf in November 2023. Photo: US Navy

US officials said the fighting with the Houthis in the Red Sea is the largest-scale battle the country’s navy has faced in nearly 80 years.

In a February 18 interview with CBS‘s “60 Minutes” program, Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, deputy commander of the US Central Command (CENTCOM), said Washington had mobilized about 7,000 sailors and the same force. Large warships and aircraft arrived in the Red Sea to respond to raids carried out by Houthi forces targeting maritime routes here since October last year.

Houthi declared that these raids were a move to show solidarity with the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip after Israel launched a campaign to eliminate Hamas forces in the territory.

Mr. Cooper said the last time a US Navy warship had to deploy such a large force and conduct combat operations for such a long time was during World War II. “When I say that the US Navy participates in combat operations, it means that our ships are targeted by the enemy, and we fire back,” the official said.

The US vice admiral said that the country’s warships had fired about 100 anti-aircraft missiles to intercept Houthi missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The majority of Houthi projectiles launched targeted cargo ships in the Red Sea, with only a few directed directly at US warships.

Mr. Cooper confirmed that the armed group used anti-ship ballistic missiles in the attacks, adding that this was the first time this type of weapon was fired in a real combat situation. “Before that, no one had ever used anti-ship ballistic missiles to target real targets, especially to attack cargo ships, let alone attack US warships,” he said.

Vice Admiral Cooper said the Houthi anti-ship ballistic missile has a speed of Mach 5, equivalent to more than 4,800 km/h, so American sailors have very little time to react. “The captain had about 5-13 seconds to make the decision to shoot down the missile. It was a very tense situation,” he said.

Besides missiles and UAVs, the Houthis have recently deployed a number of new weapons to carry out raids in the Red Sea, including unmanned boats (USVs) carrying explosives. This is a tactic being effectively applied by the Ukrainian army in the conflict with Russia.

Rear Admiral Marc Miguez, commander of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier strike group on duty in the Red Sea, said suicide boats are one of the “most frightening” threats because they move with very fast speed. “USV is an unknown threat that we do not have much information about. It can cause deadly danger,” he commented.

CENTCOM on February 18 announced that it had destroyed a Houthi unmanned ship in the sea, marking the first time the armed group used this type of weapon to attack US cargo ships and warships in the area.

Vice Admiral Cooper said that Houthi forces could not carry out such sophisticated attacks without support from Iran.

” Iran has been providing aid to the Houthis for decades and is doing so right now,” he said. “They advise and provide information for the group to target.”

CENTCOM said last week that US forces on January 28 blocked a cargo ship in the Arabian Sea, confiscating “more than 200 packages containing advanced weapons and other lethal equipment from Iran to the Houthi-controlled area in Yemen”.

In addition to intercepting Houthi attacks, US warships and fighters in the Red Sea also proactively conducted many pre-emptive strikes against the armed group’s military targets on the mainland.

Vice Admiral Cooper said the raids had significantly reduced the Houthi‘s attack capabilities. “We are effectively eliminating and preventing the enemy. I believe this strategy really works,” he emphasized.