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U.S. Forces Destroy Two Houthi Suicide Drone Boats

Houthi drone boat
Old threats resurrected: Suspected Houthi suicide drone boat, 2018 (file image courtesy Saudi coalition forces)

Published Feb 5, 2024 11:06 PM by The Maritime Executive

U.S. forces have destroyed another two suicide drone boats in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen, reducing risks to shipping.

On Monday afternoon, American forces identified the explosives-laden drones and determined that they posed "an imminent threat" to U.S. Navy warships and to commercial shipping. At 1530 hours, Central Command's forces carried out successful "self-defense" strikes to eliminate the two boats. 

"These actions will protect freedom of navigation and make international waters safer and more secure for U.S. Navy vessels and merchant vessels," said U.S. Central Command in a statement.

The interdiction represents at least the third time that American forces have encountered Houthi suicide drone boats in a month. In early January, a Houthi drone boat approached to within visible range of the shipping lanes in the Red Sea and then detonated, according to the Pentagon. On February 1, U.S. forces detected another Houthi-operated drone boat heading towards the shipping lanes of the Red Sea, and destroyed it in self-defense. 

Thanks to technical support from Iran, Yemen's Houthi rebels have developed a degree of expertise in drone boat technology. Years before Ukraine's exploits on the Black Sea made suicide drone boats famous, the Houthis were attacking Saudi ships with unmanned speedboats laden with powerful explosives. In the most prominent example, a Houthi boat hit and damaged the Saudi frigate Al Madinah in January 2017.

The Houthi movement's previous actions foreshadowed the situation the militant group has enacted in the Red Sea today. In 2018, Houthi rebels launched enough missiles and suicide drone boats at Saudi shipping that Saudi tanker operator Bahri temporarily stopped using the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb - much like Maersk, Hapag-Lloyd and Euronav have done today.