US Defense Capabilities Demonstrated Through Successful Interception of Houthi Missiles

Chinese missiles do not pose any actual threat against the U.S. defense systems.
US Defense Capabilities Demonstrated Through Successful Interception of Houthi Missiles
A Chinese missile frigate Yuncheng launches an anti-ship missile during a military exercise in the waters near south China's Hainan Island and Paracel Islands on July 8, 2016. (Zha Chunming/Xinhua via AP)
Stephen Xia

In the arena of global geopolitics, tensions have been rising in the Red Sea in the Middle East and the South China Sea in the Indo-Pacific region. The Houthi terrorists and the Chinese navy have been relying on anti-ship missiles to confront the United States and its allies.

A few hours after an American bulk carrier vessel was hit in the Red Sea, a Maltese-flagged bulk carrier, the Zografia, was attacked by Houthi missiles on Jan.16.

On Jan. 17, the U.S. Central Command said that U.S. forces launched another wave of missile strikes on Houthi-controlled sites, which was the fourth direct U.S. strike against the Houthis in Yemen in several days. The strike was launched from a U.S. Navy ship in the Red Sea and struck 14 loaded missile sites. It was the first strike since the United States put the Houthis back on the foreign terrorist list.

Despite the sanctions and military strikes, the Houthis continue to attack civilian vessels and have attacked vessels from more than 50 countries around the world. The United States pledged to work with allies to stop those attacks.

In the South China Sea, China’s standoff with the United States and the Philippines prompted the U.S.–Philippines partnership to strengthen further. On Jan. 3, a Chinese Navy destroyer and a frigate tailed a U.S. and Philippine Navy Carrier Strike Group in the West Philippine Sea as it conducted exercises.

In a Jan. 17 interview in Manila, the Philippine’s Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. said that the Philippines’s alliance with the United States is strong, and both sides have invested heavily in ensuring security and access to vital trade routes in the Indo-Pacific region that benefit not only the United States and its allies but also the region as a whole. Mr. Teodoro said that the two countries are “hardening and building up our alliances” in the face of the threats from communist China.
He also said that the Philippines is expanding U.S. military bases near potential hotspots such as Taiwan and the South China Sea since it is in Manila’s national interest to have a strong alliance with Washington.

Anti-Ship Missiles

Whether it is the Houthis in the Middle East or the Chinese regime in the South China Sea, the main weaponry they rely on to start regional conflicts at sea are anti-ship missiles of various types.
In early January, Planet Labs photographed a mock-up of the USS Ford aircraft carrier and the Arleigh Burke-class missile destroyer at the Taklamakan Desert range in China’s Xinjiang region. The range appears to be testing the Chinese regime’s anti-ship missile capabilities.

Anti-ship missiles are not rare, as they have been around for a long time. Not only does China have them, but the regular militaries of almost every country in the world also have anti-ship missiles. There are two types of anti-ship missiles: cruise missiles and ballistic missiles.

Examples of cruise missiles are the U.S.-made Tomahawk missiles, which are capable of striking targets at sea and on the ground within a range of several hundred miles. These missiles are powered by jet engines during flight and are guided from the moment of launch until they hit their target, making them relatively accurate, especially against moving targets. Most cruise missiles travel at subsonic speeds within the Earth’s atmosphere, and they are usually small enough to be launched from vehicles, ships, or planes.

However, ballistic missiles can strike targets thousands or even tens of thousands of miles away. These missiles are initially lowered by a powerful rocket engine, which takes the missile out of the Earth’s atmosphere, and then it relies on the missile’s own kinetic energy to travel along a ballistic trajectory. After the free flight stage and reentry into the atmosphere, the missile enters its final flight to the target. The powerful rocket engines of ballistic missiles enable them to reach incredibly high speeds.

Modern anti-ship ballistic missiles have brought a new capability to hit moving targets since they have been equipped with guidance capabilities in the mid- and end-range of their flight.

US Defense Against Chinese Missiles

Much of China’s maritime confidence may be attributed to its anti-ship ballistic missile capability. The Chinese regime has been touting its medium- and long-range anti-ship ballistic missiles—the Dong-Feng 21 (DF-21) and Dong-Feng 26 (DF-26)—as carrier killers.

However, these anti-ship ballistic missiles may not pose as much of a threat to the U.S. Navy as the Chinese regime boasts. The primary U.S. defense against ballistic missiles is the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System (Aegis BMD), which is found in most U.S. Navy ships. The Aegis BMD launches interceptor missiles that can intercept missiles at different stages of their flight.

The Aegis BMD has been tested 53 times with an intercept success rate of about 80 percent. More importantly, in these tests, Aegis has usually been able to recognize an incoming missile and fire an interceptor 90 seconds to about four minutes after the missile is launched, which is sufficient time before the DF-26 hits its target.

The United States has demonstrated its ability to destroy the slower, shorter-range ballistic missiles of the Houthis in the Red Sea. These Houthi ballistic missiles, likely copies of Iran’s Qiam-1 missiles or former Soviet Scud missiles, have ranges of several hundred miles and speeds of less than 5 Mach. This means that it could take up to eight minutes for a Houthi missile to hit its target from the time it is fired. The U.S. Navy has shown that it can intercept Houthi anti-ship missiles in such a short time.

In addition, the Pentagon is developing capabilities to counter the threat of hypersonic glide vehicles (HGVs), which fly at speeds of 5-10 Mach and are highly maneuverable. China’s much-publicized Dong-Feng 17 (DF-17) belongs to this class of missiles.
In May 2023, the Ukrainian military destroyed a Russian HGV missile of this type using the new Patriot surface-to-air missile system, which was not designed for this type of mission. This supports the view that existing U.S. missile defense systems are fully capable of responding to the threat of HGVs. The United States is committed to improving its specialized capabilities against hypersonic missiles and upgrading the Aegis system.

At the same time, the U.S. Navy is increasingly deploying Directed Energy Weapons (DEW) and Electronic Warfare (EW) capabilities that may also be capable of stopping or destroying China’s anti-ship ballistic missiles. DEWs could theoretically destroy ballistic missiles traveling outside the atmosphere, and space-based DEV technology may already be on the list of U.S. space capabilities.

Perhaps the most convincing analysis of China’s anti-ship ballistic missile capabilities is an article by the China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI) of the U.S. Naval War College (NWC), which argues that China is simply deceiving those who do not have access to the technical details and do not have a good understanding of the technology. In other words, the article pointed out that those Chinese missiles do not pose any actual threat against the U.S. defense systems.

The success rate of the Houthi missiles is an indicator of the U.S. missile defense systems. If the Chinese regime is counting on its anti-ship ballistic missiles to win future wars against the United States, it is highly unlikely to materialize, given America’s technological advantage.

Michael Zhuang contributed to this report.
Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Stephen Xia, a former PLA engineer, specialized in aviation equipment and engineering technology management. After retiring from military service, he has been following the world's development of military equipment.
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