Iran has developed a new type of antiaircraft missile and shipped it to Houthi rebels in Yemen, Pentagon officials announced Wednesday. The weapons were seized by United States Navy warships in two separate shipments in the Arabian Sea.

In a news briefing, Capt. Bill Urban, a spokesman for Central Command, declined to comment on how the missiles worked. But a military official familiar with the weapons, referred to as 358 missiles, described them as cruise missiles that are designed to avoid United States defensive measures and that can down American military helicopters, as well as the tilt-rotor MV-22 Osprey.

The missiles consist of three parts: two motors and an explosive warhead. The weapon can be assembled after shipment and fired from a crude launcher on the ground. Once the missile is fired and traveling fast enough, a solid-fuel boost motor falls away and a cruise motor takes over; at that point, the weapon flies in a figure-eight pattern and looks for targets.

So-called loitering weapons such as the 358 are uncommon. Israel has deployed a loitering missile called the Harpy, which homes in on enemy electronic transmissions. And a number of companies are marketing small, propeller-driven “suicide drones” such as the Switchblade for use by United States Special Operations forces.

According to an American military official, the 358 missile in flight is about nine feet long and can run on kerosene or diesel fuel contained in flexible containers that do not require a separate fuel pump. A dozen infrared lenses arranged in a ring around the missile are believed to be able to defeat heat-seeking countermeasures that coalition helicopters typically use. Another United States military official said that the 358 missiles from Iran had been fired against American drones flying in Yemeni airspace, but they had not yet succeeded in hitting any.

Three of the 358 missiles were captured in November by the Forrest Sherman, a Navy destroyer, and five more were recovered this month in an operation by the Normandy, a Navy cruiser. Those shipments also included more than 170 antitank guided missiles made in Iran, as well as 13,000 blasting caps, which are critical to making modern roadside bombs.

Captain Urban said the United States believed that Iran had been supplying weapons to the Houthi rebels for the last five years, and that such shipments were prolonging the war in Yemen.

The Houthis have displayed increasing resiliency on the battlefield against Saudi and coalition forces. Experts partly attribute the group’s success at holding territory to the advanced weapons the Iranians have sent them.

In September, Houthi fighters claimed responsibility for a drone attack on an oil facility in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia. Components of the Iranian cruise missiles blamed for the attack were also recovered in November by the Forrest Sherman.

The weapons captured by the Navy were found on small motorboats called dhows. According to Captain Urban, the mariners aboard the two dhows were questioned and then turned over to the Yemeni Coast Guard.

Source » nytimes