IDEX 2017

Attacks reaffirm need for force protection [IDEX17D1]

18 February 2017

Recent attacks on shipping off the coast of Yemen have provided both regional and extra-regional naval forces with a timely reminder that instability and insurrection on shore can all too easily extend its malign effects into the maritime sphere.

On 1 October last year the high-speed catamaran ferry Swift, owned by the UAE’s National Marine Dredging Company, was struck by an anti-ship missile fired by Houthi rebels as it sailed through the Bab el- Mandeb Strait on an aid mission. The strait connects the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden, between Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula and Djibouti and Eritrea in the Horn of Africa.

The missile, believed to be a C-802 weapon supplied via Iran, was fired from a shore installation. It impacted the forward part of Swift, inflicting significant damage; the vessel was gutted by the ensuing fire.

A little over a week later, on 9 October, the US Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Mason (DDG-87) fired missiles and deployed countermeasures to defend itself and the afloat forward staging base USS Ponce (AFSB(I)-15) from two suspected anti-ship cruise missiles fired from the Yemini shore. Mason was operating in international waters north of the strait of Bab el-Mandeb at the time of the attack.

USS Nitze (DDG-94), another US Navy destroyer, responded on 13 October, launching Tomahawk land attack missiles against Houthi-controlled radar sites in Yemen.

The most recent incident occurred in late January when a Royal Saudi Naval Forces Al-Madinah-class frigate, operating in the southern part of the Red Sea, was attacked by suicide boats. The frigate was off Hodeidah, a Yemeni coastal city controlled by Houthi insurgents, just north of the Bab el-Mandeb. Two Saudi sailors were killed and three more injured when one of the boats struck the stern of the ship and exploded. These various attacks have provided a stark indication of the threats facing naval and commercial ships transiting through one of the world’s most vital waterways, and reaffirmed the need for constant vigilance in the sea areas off the Yemini coast.

What is now very clear is that the anti-ship missile threat is increasingly transcending definitions of conventional and asymmetric warfare.

Proliferation to proxies and non-state actors has become a reality, evidenced by the attack on Swift.

Also apparent is the continuing threat from fast inshore attack craft and/or suicide boats. Multiple swarm craft approaching along different axes pose a major challenge to shipboard defences.

Against this backdrop, manufacturers exhibiting at IDEX and NAVDEX will be looking to promote the operational benefits offered by the latest generation of ship defence systems.

These include active and passive sensors, hard-kill weapons, soft-kill countermeasures, and command and weapon control systems.

(444 words)