Ansar Allah  yemen houthi
© Ansar Allah Media officeHouthi naval missiles on parade in Sanaa, September 2023.
A military source close to Yemen's Ansar Allah (Houthi) movement has informed Sputnik that the militia has carried out a successful test flight of a hypersonic missile and is preparing to add it into its arsenal. Sputnik asked a leading Russian military observer about the development's strategic implications.

Sputnik's source has indicated that the new Houthi missile can accelerate to speeds up to Mach 8 (nearly 10,000 km per hour), and that it is powered by a solid fuel engine - which typically reduces launch preparation time dramatically and eases transport.

"Yemen intends to begin manufacturing it for use during attacks in the Red and Arabian Seas and the Gulf of Aden, as well as against targets in Israel," the source, who was not at liberty to speak publicly due to the sensitive nature of the information, said.

The Houthis themselves have dropped hints about their efforts to develop a hypersonic missile amid their increasingly fierce confrontation in the Red Sea with US, British and European warships, and a partial blockade of vital international shipping lanes - which has all but shut down Israel- and Europe-bound commercial travel through the strategic maritime chokepoint.

"Our enemies, our friends and our people will see a level of achievement of strategic importance which will place our country and its capabilities in the ranks of few countries in this world," Houthi leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi said in an address last Thursday, adding that Ansar Allah has "surprises" in store for the US and Israel.

How are Houthis Able to Maintain an Arms Industry?

Yemen has been locked in a brutal civil conflict since 2014 involving a number of warring factions - including the Houthi-led Supreme Political Council, which is concentrated in the country's northwest and controls most of the country's population centers, the separatist Southern Transitional Council controlling much of the territory of the former South Yemen, and the Republic of Yemen, the UN-recognized state entity in control of lands in the country's north and northeast.

Although Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the Middle East and North Africa, the Houthis have shown themselves to be masters of asymmetric warfare, regularly targeting US forces and their regional allies using cheap-to-build kamikaze drones and timeworn but effective ballistic missiles.

Divided during the Cold War, the southern Arabian nation was flooded with vast stocks of Soviet armaments, from portable anti-tank weapons to long-range Scud ground-to-ground missiles and sophisticated 2K12 Kub anti-air missile system defenses, modernized into the Fater-1 (lit. 'Innovator-1') and used to shoot down at least five US-made reaper drones to date.

In addition to the modernization of old Soviet weapons stocks, the Yemeni militia has managed to capture vast quantities of military equipment from their Arabian coalition-allied adversaries in the course of the 2014-2022 conflict, from light vehicles to gunboats, sea mines and artillery installations.

The Houthis pride themselves on the creation of weapons "developed with purely Yemeni expertise." Western officials and Washington's Middle Eastern allies have often alleged that the Houthis are getting help from outside, most notably from Iran. Iranian officials have not shied away from saying that they support the Houthis politically, but have repeatedly emphasized that this support does not extend to military-technical or planning support. The US Defense Intelligence Agency claimed in a February report that the Houthis receive technical assistance from the Islamic Republic, but no conclusive link has ever been established.

Comment: It seems highly likely that they are indeed receiving support from Iran, and possibly others.

Houthi Carrier-Killing Missiles?

Sputnik's source did not offer any additional details about the hypersonic missile being tested by the Houthis, with its range, warhead weight and other key characteristics remaining unknown. But observers say that if the information about Houthi hypersonics pans out, it will be an unprecedented game-changer for the region.

"If the Houthis really have managed to accelerate a missile to Mach 8, that will mean that the ship-based air defense systems of the American naval group will be powerless," says veteran Russian military observer Alexei Leonkov.

"The air defenses of the carrier strike group presently parked off the coast of the Arabian Peninsula and sporadically firing at the Houthis will not be able to intercept these missiles if they approach at Mach 8. And if the Houthis have managed to make them even a little maneuverable, that's it, they won't be possible to intercept. If the Houthis learn to accurately hit warships with these missiles, we will see America's defeat," Leonkov told Sputnik.

Facing off against hypersonic missile-armed Houthis, the US would receive "something akin to Vietnam," in the military observer's estimation, with the Yemeni fighters receiving strike capabilities far outmatching those they currently enjoy, which have already managed to throw the Western-led international trading order into chaos, even if they haven't sunk many ships.

"If they start using such missiles to attack ships, warships, the [result] will be devastating. How the United States will respond is an open question, of course," Leonkov said, warning that he could not rule anything out - even a desperate turn to tactical nuclear weapons. Worryingly, the latest US Nuclear Posture Review in 2022 did not prohibit the president from launching a nuclear first strike, even against non-nuclear-armed adversaries.

"For the Americans to start thinking about using a weapon of last resort to impact the Houthis, they would have to sink an American aircraft carrier," the observer said. "The Houthis do things incrementally. They started with commercial ships, and almost didn't touch warships. Then warships began intercepting rockets being launched at them. If the Houthis get a hypersonic anti-ship missile, a rocket flying at hypersonic speeds, the result could be very different," Leonkov summed up.