The United States Navy Essentially Lost A Battle At Sea This Week


On Wednesday the US Navy attempted to escort two US owned and flagged container carriers through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait into the Red Sea, but they turned around after coming under Houthi ballistic missile fire.

A we detailed earlier, two contradictory narratives soon emerged: namely the Houthis said they scored a direct hit on one of the US ships, while the Pentagon flatly rejected the claim as nonsense. US CENTCOM said the missiles were intercepted, with one falling into the sea. But this has given rise to many more questions than answers, and some analysts are calling the hostile encounter a clear “loss” for the US Navy and the no less than three well-armed warships attempting to keep the commercial vessels safe. 

Below is important commentary from @ArmchairW and raises all of the relevant points, showing that the Pentagon narrative doesn’t fully add up [emphasis ZH]…

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Lost amid all the other news breaking in the last 24 hours is one particularly disturbing story: the United States Navy lost a battle at sea yesterday. CENTCOM put out an anodyne press release yesterday stating that afternoon, “Iranian-backed Houthi terrorists fired three anti-ship ballistic missiles from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen toward the U.S.-flagged, owned, and operated container ship M/V Maersk Detroit, transiting the Gulf of Aden.

One missile impacted in the sea. The two other missiles were successfully engaged and shot down by the USS Gravely (DDG 107). There were no reported injuries or damage to the ship.” All well and good… but as it turned out there was a lot more to the story.

This engagement occurred while two American merchantmen – the Maersk Detroit and the Maersk Chesapeake – were attempting to run the Bab al-Mandeb from south to north while being covered by the USS Gravely. An AEGIS destroyer’s defensive umbrella should have turned this transit into a milk run – except it didn’t. CENTCOM admits that one of the Houthis’ tactical ballistic missiles – undemanding targets as far as such things go – got through the Gravely’s interceptors.

What they neglected to mention was that it struck about a hundred meters from the Maersk Detroit, and that after the attack the convoy aborted the transit and retreated back into the Arabian Sea rather than press on into enemy fire. Was retreat the correct decision at the moment? Probably, the Gravely was shepherding two lumbering merchantmen and facing unsuppressed shore batteries of unknown strength and capability in broad daylight, quite possibly without adequate air cover given the ambiguities of the Eisenhower’s exact station in the Red Sea and the limited combat radius of its air wing.

Was this operational plan inadequate? Almost certainly – reading between the lines, it reeks of a complacent assumption that Houthi missile batteries had actually been suppressed by a few rounds of air raids and that a single AEGIS destroyer could handle anything the Houthis could throw at them with no need for additional contingency planning.

In the event neither of these assumptions were correct – and because of it a convoy covered by one of the US Navy’s premier warships retreated from a battle that was going badly. Perhaps the Task Force command should stop trying to shape narratives on this website and get to work on getting the Bab al-Mandeb back open to Western shipping, because right now that particular pool looks very closed.

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