Close Call: US Navy Ship Dodges Houthi Missile – How Long Until Luck Runs Out?

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The US Navy destroyer avoided disaster on Tuesday after it was forced to engage an anti-ship cruise missile fired by the Houthi seconds before impact with its close-in defense system.

On patrol in the Red Sea, the USS Gravely of Arleigh Burke class was attacked by a missile. US CENTCOM describes the incident in this way.

The Houthi militants, backed by Iran, fired a cruise missile anti-ship from Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen towards the Red Sea on Jan. 30 at around 11:30 pm (Sanaa Time). USS Gravely’s (DDG 107) shot down the missile. No injuries or damages were reported.

The crew of the USS Gravely found the real story much more thrilling.

The Houthi cruise missile, which skimmed the surface of the sea and was aimed at ships, came to within one mile of USS Gravely. Its Phalanx Closed-In Weapon Systems then engaged it.

In practice, as most cruise missiles fired by the Houthis are 0.8 to 0.9 Mach, a close approach of a mile would mean that the engagement took place less than five seconds after impact. The previous engagements were by missile and took place about eight miles away from the ship.

The USS Gravely is on station at the Red Sea and has seen action multiple times since November 3. (The infographic was updated to include the latest incident).

This episode has two important lessons to learn.

There Was Something Wrong

Previous interceptions of missiles were about eight miles away from the destroyer. It is the first time that a US Navy vessel has been less than one mile away from an intercepted missile.

An official from the US said that the fact that Gravely wasn’t able to intercept this missile earlier does not mean that Houthi attacks have become more sophisticated.

Tom Karako of the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Missile Defense Project said that it was “concerning”, the Houthi missile had managed to come so close to the US warship.

Karako explained that if the pace is good, a mile doesn’t take very much time.

I can see three possible scenarios. All three are not pretty.

1. The Aegis Radar did not detect a missile until the missile was within missile launch parameters. This would indicate a failure in the system, a Houthi countermeasure that was effective…or a breakdown in command.

2. A missile engagement failed. It failed to engage the cruise missile either during launch or flight.

3. It was a deliberate decision, either to save missiles or as an exercise in training. Yikes!

This brings to mind the tragic events at the Tower-22 Base in Jordan.

When the tragedy of Tower-22 struck, US bases had already been targeted 170 times. We launched airstrikes on terrorists now and then, but the majority of attacks were not punished. Tower-22 was a failed attack, but a series of events allowed a drone terrorist to breach the air defenses and strike the base.

The USS Gravely only needed a malfunction of the CIWS for four seconds to have a bad day.

It brings me back to the theme that I have been addressing in each of my posts about missile attacks on the Red Sea. The Biden White House forced the US Navy into a game that it cannot win. It can only hope that no sailors are killed. The proportionate, measured retaliatory strikes by CENTCOM on the Houthis are not deterring them or intimidating them. The Navy, no matter how great it is, is not perfect. The perfect storm will eventually fall into place, and many young men and women will be killed.