UK Hints at Military Response to Houthi Attacks on Shipping

The crew of the Royal Navy destroyer HMS Diamond launch an air defense missile at a Houthi aerial threat (Royal Navy)
The crew of the Royal Navy destroyer HMS Diamond launch an air defense missile at a Houthi aerial threat (Royal Navy)

Published Jan 10, 2024 3:28 PM by The Maritime Executive

The UK's defense minister has reiterated a commitment to protect merchant shipping in the Red Sea, one day after Houthi rebels launched their largest attack on the sea lanes since their campaign began in November. 

Overnight Tuesday, Houthi militants launched a combination of antiship missiles, suicide drone UAVs and anti-ship ballistic missiles towards the shipping lanes in the Red Sea. Dozens of merchant ships were in the area affected. The U.S. Navy and the Royal Navy worked together to shoot down eighteen suicide drones, two anti-ship missiles, and one ballistic missile - the largest collection of Houthi targets seen yet. No injuries or combat damage were reported.

According to the UK Ministry of Defence, the destroyer HMS Diamond used her Sea Viper missiles and guns to take out seven inbound aerial targets - implying that at least one Houthi device approached to within range of Diamond's guns. 

The Royal Navy has dispatched three vessels to assist with maritime security in the region, including HMS Diamond and the frigates HMS Richmond and HMS Lancaster. The frigates carry the Sea-Ceptor short-range air defense missile, which has a range of 15 nautical miles or more; Diamond has vertical launch cells with the Sea Viper missile system, a longer-range interceptor that can reach out to about 65 nautical miles. 

"The UK alongside allies have previously made clear that these illegal attacks are completely unacceptable and if continued the Houthis will bear the consequences," said UK Minister of Defence Grant Shapps. "We will take the action needed to protect innocent lives and the global economy."

Shapps also appeared to telegraph a pending response action. "[Houthi attacks] cannot continue, and we won’t allow this to continue. So watch this space," he said. 

At a press conference, he added that the UK had issued warnings before and that the attacks had continued anyways. "You can reach the natural conclusions upon that," he told reporters. 

In brief comments to reporters Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that there might be a response to Houthi attacks. 

“I’m not going to telegraph or preview anything that might happen,” Blinken told pool reporters during an overseas visit to Bahrain. “All I can tell you again, we’ve made clear . . . that if this continues, as it did yesterday, there will be consequences.”