The previously undocumented type of missile found on two dhows carrying Iranian weapons to the Houthi rebels in Yemen are surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) that loiter in an area searching for a target, according to a US military official cited by the New York Times on 19 February.
Examples of the missiles were found in weapon shipments seized when USS Normandy searched a dhow in the Arabian Sea on 9 February and USS Forrest Sherman searched another on 25 November 2019.
The missile's existence was revealed by a UN Panel of Experts report released earlier in February, which detailed the Forrest Sherman seizure. It said it included two examples of a "previously not-documented cruise missile, possible for surface-to-air use".
It released photographs showing a missile with an electro-optical sensor and what appeared to be an optical proximity fuze that would be appropriate for engaging aircraft. It had a solid-propellant booster that drops away after the air-breathing engine is brought up to speed. Together with its non-swept wings, this indicated it is a long-range subsonic weapon that would be ineffective against fast aircraft.
The military official told the New York Times that, after the booster drops off, the missile flies in a figure-of-eight pattern looking for targets and could be a threat to helicopters or V-22 Osprey tiltrotor transport aircraft.
The report followed a US Central Command (CENTCOM) press briefing on the weapons seizures aimed at reinforcing the point that Iran is shipping advanced weapons and components to the Houthis in violation of the UN arms embargo on Yemen. "There is no doubt as to where these weapons came from or where they were going," spokesman Captain Bill Urban said. He declined to say where the dhows were loaded or where they were heading to in Yemen.
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