Analysis 05-08-2024


The Red Sea War Continues

With the pro-Palestinian protest breaking out across the world, it’s hard to remember the ongoing war in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.  Not only are the US and its allies having problems keeping the critical seaway open, but rebel forces in Yemen are also keeping pace with the expensive, high-tech weapons being fielded against them.

Of course, there is the ongoing battle that is pitting low cost, crude missiles against the costly Western missile defenses.  However, the rebels are extending their successes as they defeat other Western technology.

Yemen’s Houthis announced that they had downed an American MQ-9 Reaper drone – a claim that was confirmed by the Pentagon.  The drone was downed a week ago last Friday and cost about $30 million.

This was the third time since November that a Reaper drone has been downed.  At $30 million apiece, that means the US has lost $90 million in Reaper drones.

Despite the overwhelming technological edge that the Western nations have, the US led Operation Prosperity Guardian has not been a success.  The Houthis managed to continue their retaliatory attacks on commercial shipping near the Bab El-Mandab Strait.

However, shipping hasn’t been totally cut off in the Red Sea.  Intercepts by Western naval air defenses, the poor quality of the Houthi/Iranian missiles and drones, and the ability of most commercial ships to withstand missile damage have made the Houthi campaign less successful than the news reports make them.

The Houthis struck the MV Andromeda Star, a British owned oil tanker with missiles.

At the same time, the MV Maisha was attacked.

A few days ago, a bulk carrier, MV Cyclades, was also attacked.

Bulk carriers are better able to withstand missile damage.  However, the more vulnerable LNG tankers are very susceptible to catastrophic damage and have rerouted around the Cape of Good Hope.

Last month, 16 maritime industry associations co-signed an open letter to the UN calling for assistance as Middle Eastern choke points were seizing up.   The choke points mentioned are the Suez, Bab El-Mandeb, and Strait of Hormuz.

“Given the continually evolving and severe threat profile within the area, we call on you for enhanced coordinated military presence, missions, and patrols in the region to protect our seafarers against any further possible aggression,” the letter said.

In the Middle East, 25% of global trade flows through the Suez, Bab El-Mandeb, and Strait of Hormuz.

However, a letter to the UN asking for greater maritime patrols will not solve the problem.  Several world class navies are already on station and patrolling the Red Sea, Bab al-Mandeb, and Gulf of Aden.  Yet, they haven’t been able to stop the rebel attacks.  Experts also expect it to take a year after the blockade ends to relieve the supply chain problems.

One problem with Operation Prosperity Guardian is that the warships have become overstretched as they have stayed on station for several months – far beyond what they were designed for.  Not only have they been on station in the Red Sea and surrounding area for months, but this is also an active combat zone, not merely a peaceful patrol.

The German frigate Hessen had missile supply and reliability problems and had to return to Germany.  It also appears that the German air defense missile the SM-2 is out of production and there is no plan to expand current stockpiles – a problem for several NATO navies as the SM-2 is a mainstay of NATO air defense.

Although the US and UK have larger stockpiles of SM-2 missiles, they can’t reload the vertical launch systems at sea, which forces the ships to leave station and travel to a port with VLS reloading capability is available.  UK ships can reload their VLS in Gibraltar, but the time off station is nearly a month.  The US ships would need to go to Diego Garcia or the Philippines.

Another problem is that the USS Eisenhower carrier task force has been on station in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East for about 8 months and needs maintenance of the ship and aircraft.

The USS Eisenhower is currently in Souda Bay, Greece.

The Western nations have a major problem.  This is not WWII.  They do not have the hundreds of warships to cover the world’s oceans.  Reloading modern ships isn’t just sending a few pallets of ammunition via underway replenishment.  Rather ammunition is scarce, expensive, and not designed for large scale naval warfare.

Another choke point that could cause problems is the Bosphorus Strait.  Turkish/Israeli relations have fallen to low levels, and it has been reported that Turkey has cut off high percentage of its trade with Israel.

The Red Sea problem will continue if the genocidal war continues in Gaza.