For the first time the United States has used the Phalanx naval missile system in the Red Sea Close In: 4,500 projectiles per minute to counter the missiles of the Yemeni rebels even at very close range
The use against the Houthis of American naval missile system Phalanx Close In (Cwis) supplied to the destroyer USS Gravely, represents a novelty in this war. It is the first time that Cwis, a system significantly referred to as the “last line of defense”, is used in this conflict in the Red Sea. And it happened on Tuesday evening in response to a cruise missile attack that grazed the American warship (it passed just over a kilometer and a half away).
The “last line of defense”, what changes in the conflict
The Phalanx automated system features Gatling guns capable of firing 4,500 twenty-millimeter projectiles per minute, against targets, even moving ones like projectiles, at very close range. “It’s an electronically controlled system, with the radar-guided gun that can destroy anti-ship missiles and other close-in threats on land and at sea“, explains the manufacturer Raytheon on the web page entitled “last line of defense”.
American warships have destroyed dozens of Houti missiles previously with longer-range defense systems, such as the Standard SM-2, Standard SM-6 and Evolved Sea Sparrow missiles, military analysts cited by CNN reconstruct. All missiles intercept their target about 12 kilometers away. But that wasn’t the case on Tuesday. And the reasons have yet to be revealed.
Some, like Tom Karako, director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, express their concern about the close encounter between the Houti missile and the American warship. “1.6 km translates into not a very long period of time,” he says.
The destruction of the Houthi missile
Carl Schuster, former captain of the US Navy, went into detail, explaining that the Houti missile, which was traveling at around 900 kilometers per hour, was 4 seconds from the target when it was destroyed, by a burst that lasted two or three seconds of the Phalanx system. And, he adds, hitting a missile at such a short distance doesn’t prevent debris from the destroyed system from hitting the target anyway.
“Missiles don’t evaporate when they’re destroyed. They spread thousands of fragments around. The good news is that the lighter parts decelerate quickly, but the larger pieces can go 500 meters,” he explains. The closer the enemy missile is to being destroyed, the greater the danger to the ship, with larger debris capable of penetrating unarmored sections of the hull, Schuster added.
And to go into the merits of Tuesday’s attack: with a cruise missile at subsonic speed like the one “depending on the possible explosion of the warhead, the dimensions of the debris, the angle of the trajectory of the missile and the altitude at the moment of its destruction, about two percent of the debris can hit the ship”, he underlines. And up to 70 percent of debris from a missile traveling at higher speeds, such as supersonic cruise missiles or ballistic missiles, could hit the ship after being intercepted by the Phalanx, he adds.
The Phalanx has a limited intercept altitude. So it might not even be able to hit ballistic missiles fired at a warship. But even with these caveats, experts agree, the system introduced in 1980 and now installed on all naval ships is important to the US Navy. At least 24 allied countries use it.
The beginning of a conflict destined to last
The day after the attack on the Gravely, the USS Carney repelled another missile attack. And US forces later shot down a Houti drone near the Gulf of Aden and destroyed another drone over the Red Sea. And, again according to information released by the American Central Command, two ballistic missiles launched from the areas of Yemen controlled by the Houthis failed to hit the targets. And it seems that it is only the beginning of a conflict destined to last.