Skip to Content

Inside the US Navy’s frontline fight against the Houthis in the Red Sea


By Natasha Bertrand, CNN

On board the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CNN) — Alarms blared on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier in the Red Sea at 4 a.m. on Tuesday morning, warning personnel to prepare for potential flight operations against a Houthi drone that was flying over nearby ships.

That drone was ultimately deemed not to be a threat. But the incident demonstrated how the crew of the carrier are constantly on a heightened alert for incoming threats from the Iran-backed militants in Yemen, who have been routinely targeting commercial ships as well as US and coalition forces in the key waterway with missiles and drones.

On board two vessels spearheading the US response to Houthi attacks, the Eisenhower and the US destroyer the USS Gravely in the southern Red Sea, CNN gained unique access and spoke to sailors and pilots who said the Houthi threat remains both unpredictable and unprecedented.

The US Navy is working at a frenetic pace, deploying jets and firing missiles at a moment’s notice to try to destroy the Houthis’ weapons and infrastructure.

But after dozens of strikes over the last month against Houthi targets both over the Red Sea and inside Yemen, CNN was told that the US military still does not know exactly how much of the Houthis’ capabilities have been destroyed—or how long it will take to deter them for good.

“It’s a wicked problem set that we don’t have a lot of great fidelity on,” said Rear Admiral Marc Miguez, the commander of Carrier Strike Group Two, told CNN on Tuesday.

Unlike state actors like Iran, Russia and China that the US has prioritized for intelligence collection for years, the US was not paying close attention to the Houthis before they started regularly lobbing missiles into the Red Sea, Miguez said. So the US does not know for sure how much the Houthis have stockpiled, particularly when it comes to what they have buried underground.

Learning in real time

The Houthis’ attacks, moreover, mark the first time anti-ship ballistic missiles have been used in combat, and the personnel on board the warships are learning in real time how to respond.

“This isn’t exactly where we expected to be on this deployment,” said Captain James Huddleston, the deputy commander of Carrier Air Wing 3 who regularly flies missions over the Red Sea and Yemen. “Whenever you are doing something for the first time in a region, that’s not without risk,” Huddleston said. “But we have managed that risk to our strike group and our air crew through the management of combat power.”

Dozens of fighter jets take off every day from the Ike carrier to circle the skies over the Red Sea in case they are tasked at a moment’s notice with carrying out a strike against a Houthi target.

All of the jets carry air to ground missiles so they can respond immediately to a threat, Miguez said.

“Unfortunately, we don’t get a lot of heads up on most of this stuff—especially the ballistic missiles,” he said. The Houthis have also changed their tactics in recent weeks, using drones more regularly to target and attack ships.

“They have tried to target coalition forces, US forces, through swarm attacks, using multiple UAVs, using multiple anti-ship ballistic cruise missiles,” said Captain Marvin Scott, the commanding officer of Carrier Air Wing 3. “They are trying everything that they can, but we are prepared for anything they may throw our way.”

In many cases the Houthis have been using the Samad-3 drone, Miguez said, which is long-range and carries an explosive payload. The Houthis have also been using Iranian-made drones, according to the Defense Intelligence Agency.

“We know for a fact that they are a threat, so we have been taking them down more and more frequently,” he said.

CNN previously reported that the US intelligence community has picked up signs that the Iranians are getting nervous about the Houthis’ attacks because of the impact they have had on some of Iran’s only allies, including China and India.

Officials believe Iran was at one point using one of its suspected spy ships which has long been parked in the southern Red Sea, the Behshad, to help the Houthis target vessels there. But in a notable shift, Iran moved the ship to the coast of Djibouti earlier this month for the first time in over two years, Miguez said. That has reduced the Houthis’ capability to track ships in the Gulf of Aden, Miguez said.

Seconds or minutes to respond

Meanwhile, the crew on board the USS Gravely destroyer in the Red Sea are the tip of the spear against inbound Houthi missiles and drones. The sailors often only have seconds to respond to an inbound missile.

“We could have seconds, or we could have minutes,” said Navy Lieutenant JG James Rodney, who works in the Gravely’s Combat Information Center. “I wouldn’t say much more than minutes.”

The Gravely is equipped with long-range Tomahawk missiles that are capable of reaching targets inside Yemen. But more often, the ship is deploying its anti-air and anti-surface missiles at closer ranges as Houthi missiles and drones close in. Last month, however, a Houthi missile got so close to the Gravely—within one mile of it—that the ship had to use its last line of defense, known as the Phalanx, to take it down. That incident is now being investigated, Miguez said.

The Houthis barrages have been so relentless that the Ike carrier and the destroyers deployed nearby have not made a port call in months, which is highly unusual. Sailors said the environment is stressful, but that it has helped to have a mission.

“It’s definitely not what we expected, to be out here,” said FC1 Michael Zito, who helps to operate the Gravely’s 54-caliber Mark 45 gun and other weapons systems on board. “We expected to have a more relaxed and chill deployment. But this is what we’ve been training for constantly, day in and day out for years, and we’re ready for whatever else comes through.  We’ll do what needs to be done.”

CNN’s Scott Pisczek contributed to this report.

™ & © 2024 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

Article Topic Follows: CNN - US Politics

Jump to comments ↓



KTVZ NewsChannel 21 is committed to providing a forum for civil and constructive conversation.

Please keep your comments respectful and relevant. You can review our Community Guidelines by clicking here

If you would like to share a story idea, please submit it here.

Skip to content