Articles

This is how a US destroyer just dodged 2 missiles off the Yemen coast

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mason (DDG 87) was targeted by two missiles believed to have been fired by Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen Oct. 9. Both missiles missed the 9,200-ton vessel and landed harmlessly in the waters of the Red Sea.


The latest near miss comes eight days after HSV-2 Swift was attacked and hit by at least two RPGs. The U.S. Navy reported that the Mason used "onboard defensive measures" as soon as the first missile was launched.

The Arleigh Burke Class guided-missile destroyer USS Mason (DDG 87) was targeted by two missiles fired by Houthi rebels in Yemen. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class J. Alexander Delgado/Released)

While the Mason carries a variety of weapons to address incoming aircraft and missiles — including the RIM-66 SM-2 Standard Missile, the RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM), the Mk 45 Mod 4 5-inch gun, and the Mk 15 Phalanx Close-In Weapon System (CIWS), which take out the incoming aerial threats physically, or achieving a "hard kill" — the Navy says the ship used so-called "soft kill" systems to avoid a hit.

Soft kill systems work by fooling the inbound threat and getting it to hit where the targeted vessel isn't.

The Mason has two such spoofing systems on board, the AN/SLQ-32 electronic countermeasures suite, and the Mk 36 Super RBOC chaff system. The AN/SLQ-32 electronic countermeasures suite is on virtually every Navy surface ship. The system works by jamming radar seekers of anti-ship missiles, causing them to either pursue phantom targets or by reducing the effective range of the seeker, enabling the ship to evade the missile.

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The Mk 36 Super RBOC system usually works with the AN/SLQ-32, and works by firing rockets that dispense chaff (essentially aluminum foil), creating false targets to confuse the seeker of an incoming missile. These "foil packets," to use Chappy Sinclair's term from the original Iron Eagle, were first used in World War II to confuse German radar.

Chaff was heavily used by the Royal Navy during the Falklands War. In one incident, a British frigate successfully decoyed a missile using chaff, but the missile then locked on to the Atlantic Conveyor, sinking the merchant vessel, which was carrying helicopters to reinforce the British forces trying to re-take the Falklands from Argentina.

The Mason was one of three vessels sent to assist HSV-2 Swift after the 1 October attack that damaged the vessel and started fires. Houthi rebels, surrogates for the Iranian regime, claimed to have sunk the vessel. Iran has been known to export anti-ship missiles like the Noor (a knock-off of the C-802 anti-ship missile). One exported missile damaged the Israeli corvette Hanit during the 2006 Lebanon War.

Yemen has been a risky place for U.S. vessels in the past. The Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Cole was damaged while refueling in Aden in October 2000. Despite having a 40x60-foot hole punched in her hull, the Cole returned to active service.

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