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Yemen: Read How Anti-ship Missiles fall into the Hands of Non-state Actors

Written by NY Staff

The futuristic looking HSV-2 Swift, an ex-U.S. Navy experimental high-speed logistics catamaran now being utilized by the UAE government, was struck by a missile on the evening of October 1, according to multiple reports. The ship was operating near the Yemeni port of Mokha located on the northeastern edge of the Mandeb Strait, a narrow and strategic body of water that connects the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden. Iranian-backed Houthi rebel fighters have claimed responsibility for the attack.

The Saudi-led coalition of Sunni Arab states fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen has largely pushed them out of the southern reaches of the country, but the group is still entrenched in the west, especially along the Red Sea.

Destabilizing the Mandeb Strait could be part of a larger Iranian-backed regional strategy, one that has the potential to inflict significant economic pain on Saudi Arabia and the west. And this isn’t the first time a Sunni Arab coalition vessel has been attacked by the Shiite anti-Yemeni government group; a year ago, two coalition ships were supposedly sunk by Iranian-supplied anti-ship missiles. A third ship was struck just months before that.

An HSV-2 Swift seen during better days.

The video below supposedly shows the attack. The missile launch does appear to be that of an anti-ship missile, and the ship on fire does appear to be an HSV-2. A massive explosion is shown when the supposed missile impacts the ship; it likely detonated the fuel onboard, plus any flammable or explosive cargo. The ship’s aluminum hull and commercial ship design standards offer little resilience to an anti-ship missile attack, and the HSV-2 is not equipped with a close-in weapon system (CIWS) capable of fending off such attacks.

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The UAE has formally acknowledged that there was an “incident” with the ship, but claims that no lives were lost. If the video above is legitimate, which it appears to be, that would be a miracle.

This attack is another reminder of the growing danger that anti-ship missiles represent—especially those that are more frequently being obtained by unpredictable non-state actors. This strike in particular is reminiscent of the 2006 attack on an Israeli Sa’ar 5 class corvette by another Iranian-backed group, Hezbollah, that had been supplied with a similar anti-ship missile system. Although in that case, the targeted ship was armed with a CIWS, albeit one that was not fully activated at the time.

On the other hand, state actors have turned entire bodies of water into super anti-ship missile engagement zones, with layers of various anti-ship missile defenses ranging out for hundreds and even thousands of miles. Even relatively dated anti-ship missiles, or, in more rare circumstances, anti-tank missiles, are especially dangerous to vessels operating close to shore in the so-called littoral combat environment. In such an environment, these weapons can emerge from seemingly nowhere and impact in a matter of seconds, giving a crew little time to react. This is a reality that even the world’s most advanced surface combatant will have to come to terms with.

Iranian State Media

A Chinese-built Iranian military C-802 anti-ship missile being fired from its flatbed canister.

The Australian-built Swift was launched in 2002, and served with the Navy as a semi-operational test platform used to explore new sea basing, minesweeping, and high-speed logistical support concepts. The ship was easily reconfigurable, able to move soldiers, vehicles, and other outsized cargo at high speed into shallow ports. The ship also worked as a command center, operating helicopters, unmanned aircraft, unmanned undersea vehicles, and small boats, and even deploying aerostats from its flight deck, over its ten-year lease with the Navy.

HSV-2 serving with the Navy as a aerostat test platform in the waters off America’s southeastern shore.

Many of the lessons learned from the ship’s tenure with the Navy found themselves applied to active classes of US Navy ships, like the growing fleet of Spearhead class Joint High-Speed Vessels, Littoral Combat Ships, sea basing vessels, and other, smaller operational vessels. Her slightly older sister ships, USS Joint Venture and USAV Spearhead, also served with the US armed forces from the early- to the mid-2000s before being released from service.

Swift’s rear roll-on/roll-off ramp is a sign of her ferry roots.

USS Joint Venture in now providing ferry service in Australia and USAV Spearhead is doing the same in Spain. Swift seems to have been owned and operated by a UAE maritime company starting in 2015, although it seems like the UAE military had the ship under charter until today’s attack.

We will update this post over the next 24 hours with any new information if it becomes available.

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