Yemen and the drone innovation

Lowy Institute's picture

As Yemen’s deadly conflict grinds on, exactly how much assistance the Iranians are providing the Houthis is open to conjecture.

The Saudi-led coalition is keen to portray the Houthis as agents, rather than allies, of Iran. And while there is certainly strong evidence of technology and weapons transfer – either by land through Oman, or via the Red Sea – the Yemenis have also demonstrated their ability to improvise when necessary. This report about their conversion of anti-ship missiles from a ship- to shore-based role is one example. 

Drones are another another area of innovation. The Houthis have deployed drones as suicide aircraft, designed to destroy the supporting radars of Patriot anti-missile defence systems used by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates forces. Such attacks allow ballistic missiles fired by Houthis a better chance of penetrating air defences.

The weaponisation of Houthi drones, and their use as a strategic rather than tactical capability, may be a further innovation – at least, that’s if pro-Houthi media claims are to be believed. In July, pro-Houthi media released video of what it said was one of its drones dropping bomblets on Saudi and Emirati troops in the field.

Footage of a Houthi drone dropping grenade-sized munitions, allegedly on Emirati/Saudi-led Coalition forces around 45 kilometers south of Hodeida, : 14.341269, 43.033236 (geolocation h/t @AllWilbert). The video doesn't show the moment of impact. H/t @YemeniObserv for video. pic.twitter.com/FgvIuJrejt

— Christiaan Triebert (@trbrtc)

A few weeks later, the Houthis claimed that a drone attack was conducted against a Saudi Aramco facility in Riyadh (a claim quickly backed up by Iranian television). Shortly after, UAE authorities denied a claim that the Houthis had conducted a drone attack on Abu Dhabi airport. 

Whatever the truth, in terms of maintaining the support of people in areas under their control, the information operations campaign the Houthis are waging with their drone fleet is proving effective. And once again Yemen proves, even to regional states, that its physical and human geography make it one of the hardest operating environments for invading forces.

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