A Houthi missile put a US destroyer’s Close-In Weapon System to the test in a recent engagement.
A warship’s CIWS is usually considered its last line of defense and is for close-range intercepts.
The Tuesday incident marks the latest Houthi missile attack, though not the latest exchange of fire.
A Houthi anti-ship cruise missile fired into the Red Sea came within a mile of a US Navy destroyer on Tuesday, close enough that the American warship had to turn to its Close-In Weapon System — a last line of defense.
Most missiles are shot down further out. This is the closest that a Houthi attack has come to an American warship, four US officials told CNN, which reported additional details of the incident on Wednesday.
US Central Command, or CENTCOM, initially said on Tuesday that around 11:30 p.m. local time, the Houthis fired a single anti-ship cruise missile from Yemen toward the Red Sea and it was shot down by the USS Gravely.
There was no reported damage or injuries. CENTCOM declined Business Insider’s request for additional information on Tuesday’s missile downing.
For several months, the Iran-backed rebels have relentlessly fired one-way attack drones and missiles into key waterways off the coast of Yemen. Many of these threats have been shot down by US warships — and sometimes by British or French forces — though some of the munitions have struck commercial vessels transiting the region. No warships have been struck.
A warship’s CIWS consists of two close-range, automatic machine guns that can fire up to 4,500 rounds per minute but have a range that only goes out to two nautical miles.
Before a ship’s CIWS is engaged, the warship’s SM-2 or SM-3 interceptors come into play. These are fired from a vertical launch system cells before they then intercept and destroys airborne threats. An SM-3 “hits threats with the force of a 10-ton truck traveling 600 mph,” according to Raytheon, the weapon’s manufacturer.
Warships can also use a chaff mechanism, which confused a missile’s radar.
The incident involving USS Gravely came just hours before US forces stuck and destroyed a Houthi surface-to-air missile that was prepared to launch in Yemen and “presented an imminent threat” to American aircraft in the region, the military said on Wednesday.
The US has carried out several rounds of preemptive strikes this month targeting Houthi missiles — mostly the anti-ship capabilities — as the rebels were preparing to launch, posing a threat to commercial vessels and American warships off the coast of Yemen.
In addition to these preemptive actions, the US and UK have also conducted widespread strikes across Yemen, targeting Houthi sites like missile launchers, weapons storage facilities, radars, and air-defense systems.
Western officials have stressed that these strikes are a direct response to the Houthis’ ongoing attacks against commercial vessels transiting the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden — a key global trade route, and they will continue unless the rebels cease the provocations.
“We’re certainly taking aggressive action against the Houthis to try to defend shipping in the Red Sea,” White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said this week. He stressed though that the US is “not at war” with the Iran-backed rebels.
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