US F/A-18 Super Hornets ‘Shoot Down’ Houthi-Launched Drones & Missiles; Scores 1st Kill Since 2017

After a spate of attacks on commercial ships carried out by the Yemen-based Houthi group, the US Central Command (CENTCOM) took matters into its own hands and deployed its F/A-18 Super Hornets to shoot down a barrage of drones and missiles unleashed by the Houthis. 

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In the wee hours of December 27, the Houthis from Yemen launched a fresh barrage of land attack and anti-ship weaponry toward the southern tip of the Red Sea. According to the US Central Command, the F/A-18 Super Hornets from the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group and the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Laboon (DDG-58) shot down two land attack cruise missiles, three anti-ship ballistic missiles, and twelve one-way attack drones.

“US assets, including the USS Laboon and F/A-18 Super Hornets from the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group, shot [them] down,” said US Central Command, the Pentagon’s top combatant command in the Middle East. “There was no damage to ships in the area or reported injuries.”

As soon as Israel declared an “all-out” war against Hamas and started dropping bombs on Gaza, the US dispatched its biggest-ever aircraft carrier, USS Gerard R. Ford strike group, to be deployed close to the eastern coast of Israel. Just a few days later, it was joined by another aircraft carrier, the USS Dwight Eisenhower carrier group.

A host of warships accompany these carrier groups, and several fighter jets have also been deployed to the region in what the US calls an effort to thwart escalation.

Ever since the hostilities began with an unprecedented surprise attack by the Gaza-based Hamas militant group, Israel has bombarded the narrow strip of land, killing more than 20,000 civilians. Despite calls for a ceasefire, Israel has indicated that the ‘war’ would go on for months until the Hamas group is completely decimated.

In the recent incident, the sequence of events commenced at 6:30 AM local time and lasted for ten hours, and every weapon launched by the Houthis reportedly missed its target. In fact, since mid-October, at least 100 drones launched by the Houthis have been shot down in the region. 

The recent incident signifies escalation as it is the first time the Navy shot down an incoming ballistic missile using an anti-ship ballistic missile. This is the first time the Super Hornets have scored kills in the region.

This would only be the F/A-18E/F’s second aerial kill, with the first one occurring in 2017 over Syria’s Su-22. 

The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower is presently moored in the Gulf of Aden; thus, the use of Super Hornets for air defense isn’t all that shocking. The choppy and narrow Bab el-Madeb Strait divides this body of water from the Red Sea.

Super Hornets are formidable warplanes to thwart cruise missile and drone attacks. Arguably, their AN/APG-79 is the world’s most advanced active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar for identifying, monitoring, and supporting the engagement of small, low-flying targets like drones and cruise missiles.

Additionally, US Navy Super Hornets are equipped with an advanced infrared search and track (IRST) system, which has already been deployed in limited quantities to the Middle East.

The Houthis have intensified attacks in the region while calling on Israel to stop bombing the Gaza Strip. However, the bombing campaign, coupled with ground operations from Israel, which have American backing, have infuriated regional militias allegedly supported by Iran.

These attacks have become a cause of concern as they threaten global trade and risk rising gas and oil prices, causing avoidable inflation.

Both drones and cruise missiles can be taken out by the Super Hornet’s AIM-9X Sidewinder and AIM-120 AMRAAMs.

With their arsenal of surface-to-air missiles, Navy Arleigh Burke-class destroyers like Laboon have already shown themselves to be more than capable of defending other vessels as well as themselves from Houthi threats. But unlike surface-to-air missile systems, Super Hornets can fly out well ahead of naval assets, protecting them as well as important areas while also looking into any threats.

The United States Is Cobbling An Alliance

As major shipping corporations were forced to reroute due to strikes by Iran-backed Yemeni extremists, the United States launched a multinational operation to protect commerce in the Red Sea, raising concerns of protracted disruptions to global trade.

As part of this effort, the United States has announced the formation of an upgraded naval protection force that would operate in the southern Red Sea. 

As more states join the endeavor, over 20 countries have committed to be part of the new coalition led by the United States that would protect Red Sea commerce from attacks by the Houthi movement in Yemen.

USS Carl Vinson
An F/A-18F Super Hornet, assigned to the “Bounty Hunters” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 2, is signaled to launch from the flight deck of Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) during Annual Exercise (ANNUALEX) 2023. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Larissa T. Dougherty)

The political bureau of Yemen’s Houthi group said in a statement last week that the multinational coalition established by the United States to safeguard maritime navigation in the Red Sea is a component of the war against the Palestinian people and is in violation of international law.

“The international coalition that America announced under the pretext of protecting maritime navigation in the Red Sea is an alliance to protect the Israeli entity and to protect Israeli ships. It is an integral part of the aggression against the Palestinian people, Gaza, and the Arab and Islamic nations,” its politburo said.

“It aims to encourage the Zionist entity to continue its brutal crimes against the Palestinian people in Gaza, this coalition contradicts international law and does not protect maritime navigation, but rather threatens it and seeks to militarize the Red Sea for the benefit of the Israeli entity,” the statement said.

The group categorically mentioned that Yemen’s military forces only target Israeli ships or ships that are traveling to Israeli ports, and they pose no threat to any other nation. “We affirm our steadfast position in supporting the Palestinian people until Israel’s aggression ends and the siege on the Gaza strip is lifted.