US Expends 530 Munitions, Over $1 Billion Fighting Houthi Hellfire Raining Down on Its Carrier Group


Since October, the Houthis have launched projectile attacks targeting ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden in over 127 instances, according to the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA). These attacks have necessitated the use of expensive U.S. munitions to intercept relatively inexpensive drones and missiles. For example, in March alone, the Houthis launched 93 drones and missiles, following 73 projectiles in February.

  • Cost of Interceptions: U.S. Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro testified on April 16 that nearly $1 billion has been spent on munitions to intercept Houthi projectiles. This expenditure highlights the significant financial burden on U.S. military resources.

Impact on Military Readiness

The depletion of key tactical missiles has harmed U.S. military readiness. The Houthis’ use of inexpensive drones and missiles, assembled from Iranian-supplied components, poses a severe challenge to U.S. defensive capabilities.

Missile Expenditure: The U.S. Navy has launched over 100 SM-2 or SM-6 missiles, valued at approximately $2.2 million and $4.3 million each, respectively. This results in a cost ratio of 100:1 or greater in some cases, underscoring the unsustainable nature of current U.S. defensive measures.

Stockpile Depletion: The Department of Defense (DoD) has faced challenges in replenishing its missile stockpile. Spending on tactical missiles like the SM-2 and SM-6 has stagnated, leaving the Navy with an estimated 500 SM-6 missiles less than three months into the Houthi attacks.

Image :Reported Houthi attacks in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden – Source: Operation Atalanta, UKMTO, Lloyd’s List Intelligence/Seasearcher – Excludes suspicious approaches, incidents where location data is unavailable, and incidents not involving the Houthis

Strategic and Tactical Challenges

The primarily defensive and reactive U.S. policy has not yielded long-term success against Houthi assaults on global shipping.

Airstrike Campaigns: Initial U.S. and U.K. airstrikes in January and February targeted 100 Houthi sites but failed to destroy the Houthis’ arsenal of ballistic and cruise missiles and drones. Subsequent strikes have been sporadic, resulting in increased Houthi attacks.

Naval Force Strain: The deployment of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group to the Red Sea for over five months has strained U.S. naval resources. With fewer than a dozen aircraft carriers, the U.S. Navy has limited capacity to address multiple global hotspots simultaneously.

Expenditure and Operational Costs

The US Navy has expended over 500 munitions targeting Houthi-launched missiles, UAVs, and drone boats over and in the Red Sea, as well as positions inside Yemen. The figures, revealed by Navy data, include approximately 430 engagements by US warships and aircraft targeting planned and dynamic Houthi targets. The Eisenhower’s onboard F/A-18 Super Hornet strike jets alone have flown over 27,200 hours across roughly 12,100 sorties, launching more than 350 air-to-surface missiles and 50 air-to-air missiles. Additionally, guided-missile destroyers and cruisers accompanying the Eisenhower have launched 100 Standard Missile-2 interceptors and Tomahawk cruise missiles at Houthi targets.

The operational costs are staggering. For instance, F/A-18 jets have an average per hour flight cost of more than $30,400. Based on the Navy-provided data, the US has spent close to $827 million on sorties alone, not counting the cost of expended missiles. These include AIM-7 Sparrow and AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, priced between $125,000 and $400,000 each, and AGM-88 HARM air-to-surface missiles, which cost between $284,000 and $870,000 each. Ship-launched Standard Missile-2 interceptors cost $2 million each, and the more advanced Standard Missile-6, which has also been deployed, costs $4.3 million per unit. Tomahawk land attack cruise missiles, meanwhile, are priced at roughly $2 million each.

Tactical and Strategic Implications

The US-led military operations in the Red Sea, dubbed Operation Prosperity Guardian, have faced criticism for their high costs and limited effectiveness. US lawmakers have expressed concerns about the cost-efficiency of the operation. Senator Angus King, chair of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, highlighted the imbalance in using expensive missiles to shoot down relatively cheap Houthi drones, calling the strategy unsustainable.

Despite the substantial military efforts, the Houthi militia has continued and even increased its attacks. The Houthis have expanded their drone and missile forays into the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. On May 19, the USS Carney returned to Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville, Florida, after a long deployment in the Red Sea, during which it had 51 engagements with Houthi missiles and drones, marking the most direct Navy engagement with a foe since World War II.

Impact on Global Trade and Naval Warfare

The ongoing Houthi attacks have significant implications for global trade and naval strategy. The Red Sea is a critical artery for global trade, with about 12% of global trade passing through this route, accounting for billions of dollars worth of goods and approximately 30% of the world’s container shipping. The Houthi attacks have forced several major shipping companies to reroute their vessels around the Cape of Good Hope, adding significant time and cost to transportation. This rerouting has also impacted Egypt’s revenues from Suez Canal traffic, exacerbating the country’s economic challenges.

The attacks have introduced a new dimension to naval warfare, demonstrating the effectiveness of mobile, land-based, anti-ship missiles, and cheap drones in disrupting maritime operations. This shift challenges the traditional dominance of surface fighting ships, including aircraft carriers, which must now contend with the threat posed by shore-based weapons systems.

Diplomatic and Strategic Responses

In response to the Houthi threat, the United States has established a multinational naval task force, Operation Prosperity Guardian, which includes the United Kingdom, Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles, and Spain. However, key regional players such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt are notably absent from this coalition. The task force aims to ensure freedom of navigation and bolster regional security, but its effectiveness remains uncertain amid the persistent and evolving Houthi attacks.

The US has also sought diplomatic avenues to mitigate the threat, engaging in backchannel negotiations with Iran, which supports the Houthi militia. These efforts underscore the complexity of the geopolitical landscape in the region and the intertwined nature of military and diplomatic strategies.

Broader Geopolitical Consequences

The disruption caused by Houthi attacks extends beyond immediate military and economic impacts. The situation in the Red Sea has catalyzed shifts in global trade routes and heightened tensions among regional and global powers. Russia, for example, has benefited from the disruption, with increased rail connections between China and Europe providing an alternative to the disrupted maritime routes.

Moreover, the Houthi attacks have highlighted the broader strategic challenges faced by the US and its allies in countering asymmetric threats. The continued reliance on expensive missile defense systems against relatively low-cost threats underscores the need for a reassessment of military strategies and expenditures.

Strategic Recommendations

Short-Term Measures

To stop Houthi attacks in the short term, the United States must impose prohibitive costs on the Houthis and their backers.

Targeted Strikes: Regular strikes on Houthi weapons depots and personnel, particularly senior leaders, can degrade their capabilities and impose real costs on the terror group.

Disrupting Supply Chains: Efforts to stem Iran’s provision of weapons, training, and intelligence to the Houthis are critical. Interdictions of Iranian weapons shipments, though sporadic, must be intensified and expanded.

Medium- and Long-Term Solutions

Developing more cost-effective means for protecting against drone and missile threats is essential for sustainable defense.

Directed Energy Weapons: Accelerating research and development of directed energy weapons, such as the Israeli Iron Beam system, represents a promising solution. These systems use high-powered microwaves and lasers to disrupt drones’ electronic systems, offering a cost-effective alternative to interceptor missiles.

Iron Beam Integration: The Iron Beam system, developed by Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, is expected to be operational by 2025. A naval variant unveiled in May 2023 could enhance U.S. defenses against drone swarms and short-range ballistic missiles.

Future Innovations: The Department of Defense aims to use directed energy systems to neutralize cruise missiles by 2030. Investing in these technologies can shift the cost curve in the U.S.’s favor and provide a sustainable defense against asymmetric threats.

The Houthis’ asymmetric warfare has imposed significant costs on the United States, highlighting the need for strategic and tactical adjustments. By imposing prohibitive costs on the Houthis and their backers in the short term and developing cost-effective defense systems in the long term, the United States can enhance its military readiness and protect global commerce from asymmetric threats.

In conclusion, the US-led efforts to counter Houthi attacks in the Red Sea have resulted in significant expenditures and operational challenges. Despite the substantial military investment, the Houthis have continued their attacks, highlighting the limitations of current strategies and the need for a comprehensive approach that combines military, diplomatic, and economic measures to address the complex security dynamics in the region.

APPENDIX 1 – The Coordinated Attack on the Galaxy Leader: A Detailed Analysis of the Houthi Campaign and Its Global Impact

The hijacking of the cargo ship Galaxy Leader by Houthi rebels in the Red Sea last November marked the beginning of a significant campaign targeting Western vessels. This document provides an in-depth analysis of the events, the resulting impact on global trade, and the strategic and economic implications.

The Hijacking Incident

Date: November 2023
Location: Red Sea
Ship: Galaxy Leader
Ownership: Partly owned by Israeli billionaire Abraham Ungar
Attackers: Houthi rebels from Yemen

The attack on the Galaxy Leader was a coordinated effort by the Houthi rebels, who used armed forces to board and take control of the vessel. This incident sent shockwaves through the global maritime community, highlighting the vulnerability of key shipping routes to militant actions.

Escalation of Houthi Attacks

Since the initial hijacking, the Houthi rebels have escalated their campaign against vessels in the Red Sea. According to reports, there have been 107 attacks on ships, involving missiles and drones. These attacks have resulted in the deaths of three seafarers and caused significant disruptions to global trade routes.

Impact on the Suez Canal

Suez Canal Traffic:

  • Pre-Attack Traffic: 12% of global trade
  • April 2024 Traffic: 66% reduction compared to the previous year

The Suez Canal, a crucial artery for global trade, has seen a dramatic decrease in traffic as shipping firms seek safer routes. This reduction has forced many vessels to divert around the Cape of Good Hope, significantly increasing journey times and costs.

Economic and Logistical Consequences

Increased Journey Time: +10 days
Fuel Cost Increase: +40%

The rerouting of ships has led to increased operational costs for shipping companies. Maersk, one of the largest shipping lines, has reported a 20% drop in capacity for the second quarter of the year. The surcharge on containers between Asia and Northern Europe has tripled from $250 to $750.

Impact on Businesses and Consumers

British Chambers of Commerce Survey (February 2024):

  • Affected Manufacturers and Retailers: 53%
  • Price Rises for Container Hire: +300%
  • Increased Delivery Times: +4 weeks

The crisis has had a cascading effect on global supply chains, particularly impacting manufacturers and retailers dependent on goods from Asia and the Middle East. Companies like Volvo and Tesla have had to suspend production lines due to parts shortages, while others, such as Stellantis, have resorted to air freight.

Alternative Shipping Methods

Rail Freight:

  • Increase in Trains from China to Europe: Significant rise in recent months

Some companies have shifted to rail freight to mitigate the impact of the Red Sea disruptions. The increase in rail shipments from China to Europe has provided a partial solution, though it cannot entirely replace sea transport.

Oil and Energy Market Impact

Oil Price Increase:

  • January 2024: ~$76 per barrel
  • May 2024: ~$84 per barrel

While the oil market has not seen the dramatic price spikes initially expected, the ongoing disruptions have contributed to a steady increase in prices. The resilience of the shipping industry has helped mitigate some of the inflationary pressures.

Strategic and Long-Term Implications

Supply Chain Realignment:

  • Nearshoring by Companies: Increase in sourcing from Turkey and Morocco
  • Impact on UK Import Levels: No significant change between January and March 2024

Businesses are realigning their supply chains to adapt to the new normal. This includes increased nearshoring efforts and a shift to alternative transport methods. The long-term impact will depend on the duration of the disruptions and the ability of companies to adjust their sourcing strategies.

Future Projections

Shipping Capacity and Costs:

  • Industrywide Capacity Drop (April-June 2024): 15%-20%
  • Additional Costs: Ongoing rise due to longer routes and increased fuel consumption

The continued expansion of the risk zone by the Houthi rebels poses a persistent threat to global shipping routes. Shipping companies are likely to face prolonged higher costs and capacity constraints, leading to further adjustments in global trade patterns.

The Houthi campaign against Western vessels in the Red Sea has led to significant disruptions in global trade, affecting shipping routes, increasing costs, and forcing companies to adapt their supply chains. The ongoing conflict in Gaza and the strategic responses by shipping companies and governments will shape the future landscape of international trade and maritime security.

APPENDIX 2 – Reported Houthi attacks in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden

DateVessel nameIncident typeFlagVessel TypeDescription
19-nov-23Galaxy LeaderHijackBahamasPCTCCrew hijacked, vessel and crew held in Yemen
3-Dec-23Unity ExplorerMissile/DroneBahamasBulk carrierCrew unharmed. First attack missed, second attack hit by missile or drone
3-Dec-23Number 9MissileLiberiaContainershipCrew unharmed. Vessel struck by missile. Structural damages in way of starboard hull, breach & water ingresses.
3-Dec-23AOM Sophie IIMissilePanamaBulk carrierCrew unharmed. No significant damage
10-Dec-23Centaurus LeaderDroneSingaporePCTCTwo missed drone strikes
11-Dec-23StrindaMissileNorway (Int)Oil & chemical tankerCrew unharmed, struck by anti-ship cruise missile. Fire onboard but vessel proceeded on own power
13-Dec-23Ardmore EncounterArmed approach + MissileMarshall IslandsOil & chemical tankerCrew unharmed. Tanker fired at by small arms after not complying with calls to change course. Two missiles, one intercepted, one landed about 200 yards from stern.
14-Dec-23Maersk GibraltarMissileHong KongContainershipMissile attack – missed
15-Dec-23Al JasrahMissile/DroneLiberiaContainershipCrew unharmed. Hit by missile or drone on port side. One container fell overboard and a fire broke. Vessel currently sailing
15-Dec-23MSC Palatium IIIMissileLiberiaContainershipVessel reportedly caught fire after missile strike
18-Dec-23MSC ClaraMissile/DroneLiberiaContainershipExplosion near vessel. No injuries or damage
18-Dec-23Swan AtlanticMissile/DroneCayman IslandsChemical tankerCrew unharmed. Vessel hit by “unidentified object” on port side
23-Dec-23Sai BabaDroneGabonCrude oil tankerCrew unharmed. Drone struck vessel.
26-Dec-23MSC United VIIIMissileLiberiaContainershipCrew unharmed. “all crew are safe with no reported injuries and a thorough assessment of the vessel is being conducted” – MSC
30-Dec-23Maersk HangzhouArmed approach + MissileSingaporeContainershipCrew unharmed. Vessel attacked in two separate incidents, first by a missile and then Houthi speedboats that were ultimately drowned by US forces
02-Jan-24CMA CGM TageMissile/DroneMaltaContainershipThree explosions 1-5 nautical miles from vessel. No harm to crew or vessel.
09-Jan-24 Complex drone and missile event US and UK forces shot down over 20 drones and missiles
11-Jan-24KhalissaMissilePanamaCrude oil tankerMissile hit about 500 metres from ship. Master reports being followed by three small craft. No damage or injuries reported
15-Jan-24Gibraltar EagleMissileMarshall IslandsBulk carrierCrew unharmed. Struck by anti-ship ballistic missile. No significant damage
16-Jan-24ZografiaMissileMaltaBulk carrierCrew unharmed. Struck by anti-ship ballistic missile. No significant damage
17-Jan-24Genco PicardyMissileMarshall IslandsBulk carrierCrew unharmed. Struck by anti-ship ballistic missile. No significant damage
18-Jan-24Chem Ranger*MissileMarshall IslandsOil & chemical tankerCrew observed missile strike water near ship. Crew unharmed, no damage
24-Jan-24TomahawkDroneLiberiaBulk carrierDrone attack – missed
24-Jan-24Maersk Detroit & Maersk ChesapeakeMissileUSAContainershipTwo missiles intercepted by USS Gravely, one reportedly exploded 100 metres from one of the vessels’ starboard side
26-Jan-24Marlin LuandaMissileMarshall IslandsProduct tankerMissile hit caused fire in one of the ship’s cargo holds. Crew and responding navies were able to extinguish the fire. No injuries to crew
01-feb-24KoiMissileLiberiaContainershipHouthis falsely claimed to hit vessel on Wednesday (denied by operator CMA CGM). US says two missiles launched “likely” towards the vessel the following day. Missiles landed in water. No damage or injuries.
02-feb-24DaffodilDroneSaudi ArabiaProduct tankerDrone attack – missed (EU Navfor)
06-feb-24Morning TideMissile/other projectileBarbadosGeneral cargo ship with container capacity“The master stated that a projectile was fired at his vessel on the port side that passed over the deck, causing slight damage to the bridge windows,” UKMTO said. Vessel and crew are safe. US Centcom said three ballistic missiles “likely” targeting the vessel impacted water near ship without effect.
06-feb-24Star NasiaMissile/DroneMarshall IslandsBulk carrierExplosion reported in close proximity to vessel. Crew and vessel are safe (UKMTO). US Centcom reports three missiles were launched towards the vessel between 0320 hrs and 1630; one exploded near the ship and caused minor damage; second impacted the water; and third was intercepted by USS Laboon
12-feb-24Star IrisMissileMarshall IslandsBulk carrierMaster reported vessel was attacked by two missiles, causing minor damage. Vessel and crew are safe (UKMTO)
15-feb-24LycavitosMissileBarbadosBulk carrierCrew unharmed. Master reported an explosion in close proximity to the vessel (UKMTO). The ship reported no injuries but very minor damage in the attack and continued its voyage. (US CENTCOM)
16-feb-24PolluxMissilePanamaCrude oil tankerMissile exploded in close proximity (UKMTO), No damage or injuries reported. CENTCOM said at least three missiles launched towards the vessel. US State Department said vessel impacted on starboard side.
18-feb-24RubymarMissileBelizeGeneral cargo shipVessel was hit by two Houthi missiles. Crew safely evacuated. Vessel sunk two weeks after the attack
19-feb-24Sea ChampionMissile/DroneGreeceBulk carrierMaster initially reported explosion near the vessel, and then another one in the air near the vessel. Master reported evidence of shrapnel and damage to paintwork. Vessel and crew reported safe.
19-feb-24Navis FortunaDroneMarshall IslandsBulk carrierThe master reported that the vessel had been hit by a drone resulting in superficial damage to the accommodation superstructure, but no crew were hurt and the vessel continued to its next port of call.
22-feb-24IslanderMissilePalauGeneral cargo shipVessel reportedly struck by two missiles resulting in fire onboard but only minor damage. Crew and vessel reported safe and proceeding to next port of call (UKMTO).
24-feb-24Torm ThorMissileUSAOil & chemical tankerOne missile intercepted by USS Mason, another one fired several hours after impacted the water. No damage or injuries reported (Centcom)
04-mar-24MSC Sky IIMissileLiberiaContainershipVessel targeted with two missiles, one hit, causing small fire. Blaze was extinguished and crew confirmed safe. Vessel continued to next port of call for further assessment.
06-mar-24True ConfidenceMissileLiberiaBulk carrierTwo Houthi missiles hit the vessel, killing three crew, and seriously injuring several others. Vessel abandoned. True Confidence was sailing west in Gulf of Aden and was told by Houthis to turn around. The Houthis struck the vessel after it had complied with the their demands.
08-mar-24Propel FortuneMissileSingaporeBulk carrierTwo explosions ahead of vessel. Crew and vessel safe (UKMTO)
11-mar-24PinocchioMissileLiberiaContainershipMaster reported explosion in vicinity of ship. Vessel and crew are reported safe (UKMTO). Two missiles were launched at the vessel, according to Centcom.
14-mar-24Pacific 01MissilePanamaCrude oil tankerMaster initially reported being struck by a missile and ship sustaining some damage. A daylight inspection later showed no damage and the master said the ship has not been hit (UKMTO). Vessel and crew are safe
15-mar-24MadoMissile/DroneMarshall IslandsLPG CarrierMaster reported an explosion a distance off the vessel’s starboard beam. Crew and vessel reported safe, no damage to ship (UKMTO). Vessel was targeted again on March 17.
17-mar-24MadoMissile/DroneMarshall IslandsLPG CarrierMaster reports explosion in close proximity to vessel. Crew are safe, vessel not damaged (UKMTO). Second attempt on vessel in two days.
23-mar-24Huang PuMissilePanamaCrude oil tankerFive missiles were lobbed towards the Huang Pu. The fifth missile hit the tanker and caused a fire which was extinguished after 30 mins. Crew and vessel are safe. Vessel suffered “minimal” damage. (Centcom)
06/07-Apr-24Hope IslandMissileMarshall IslandsContainershipVessel was targeted multiple times while transiting south through the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. Master reported coalition ship in escort intercepted a missile while a second landed in a distance from the vessel on April 6 in Red Sea. On April 7, master reported on that a missile impacted near the vessel’s port quarter. No damage to the vessel reported and crew are safe. (UKMTO)
24-apr-24Maersk YorktownMissile/DroneUSAContainershipMaster reported explosion a distance off the vessel. Vessel and crew safe (UKMTO)
25-apr-24MSC Darwin VIMissile/DroneLiberiaContainershipMaster reported a loud bang heard, and a splash and smoke seen from the sea. Vessel and crew reported safe (UKMTO)
26-apr-24Andromeda StarMissile/DronePanamaCrude oil tankerMaster reported two attacks. In the first attack, the vessel experienced an explosion in close proximity to the vessel, which was felt by the crew on board. Subsequently, the second attack consisted of what is believed to be two missiles, which resulted in damage to the vessel (UKMTO
29-apr-24CycladesMissile/DroneMaltaBulk carrierCSO reported an explosion in close proximity to a merchant vessel. Vessel has sustained damage, vessel and crew reported as safe and proceeding to next port of call. (UKMTO)
07-May-24MSC DiegoMissilePanamaContainershipMaster of MSC Diego reported two explosions in close proximity to the vessel (UKMTO). JMIC reported MSC Diego and MSC Gina targeted while transiting about 82nm south of Aden. Neither vessel were hit and crew were reported safe.
07-May-24MSC GinaMissilePanamaContainershipMaster of MSC Diego reported two explosions in close proximity to the vessel (UKMTO). JMIC reported MSC Diego and MSC Gina targeted while transiting about 82nm south of Aden. Neither vessel were hit and crew were reported safe.
17-May-24WindMissilePanamaCrude oil tankerVessel was struck by anti-ship ballistic missile, causing flooding and temporary loss of propulsion and steering, which the crew was able to restore. Vessel resumed course under its own power. Crew reported safe. (CENTCOM, UKMTO)
23-May-24YannisMissileMaltaBulk carrierMissile impact in water near vessel. Vessel and crew reported safe. (UKMTO)

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