Currently, Yemen is in the midst of a civil war. On one side, there are the Houthi rebels, backed by the Islamic Republic of Iran. On the other side is the Saudi-backed Yemeni government, led by President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi. This war has raged since 2015, when a Saudi-led coalition tried to defeat a 2014 coup lead by Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was forced out as President of Yemen, received the backing of the Houthi rebels. Last month, Saleh was killed after switching his allegiance to the Saudi-led coalition.
The Saudi-led coalition has been dominating the skies since the war exploded on the international scene. This is no surprise, as the Saudi Air Force is one of the most modern in the Persian Gulf region. The strikes have been controversial, causing an American cutoff of munitions deliveries under the Obama Administration. The Trump Administration resumed the deliveries last year.
The Houthi rebels have received arms from Iran, including the Noor anti-ship missile. The Noor is an Iranian copy of the Chinese C-802, and was used in multiple attacks on the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mason (DDG 87).
However, the Houthi have also apparently begun to MacGyver some weapons as well. In the video below, rebels claim to have hit a Saudi F-15S Strike Eagle. According to a Facebook post by aviation historian Tom Cooper, the weapon that was apparently used was a modified AA-11 “Archer” air-to-air missile.
While the United States has developed surface-to-air versions of air-to-air missiles like the AIM-9 Sidewinder (MIM-72 Chapparal), the AIM-7 Sparrow (the RIM-7 Sea Sparrow), and the AIM-120 AMRAAM (in the HUMRAAM), Russia has not taken this path, preferring specialized missiles. The jury-rigged approach did almost work for the Houthis, but the missile appears to hit a flare from the Saudi Strike Eagle. AA-11s would likely have been in the Yemeni arsenal to arm MiG-29 Fulcrums exported to that country by Russia.
While the Saudi Strike Eagle survived this close call, it’s a reminder that on the battlefield, any weapon can kill you. It may also give Iran – and Russia – some new ideas.