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Report: Yemen’s Houthis developing deadlier, more accurate drones

February 19, 2020 at 3:44 pm

Image of a seized truck that was carrying drones on its way to the Houthi rebels in December 2016 [ALyemenNow/Twitter]

According to a paper released today by UK-based think tank Conflict Armament Research (CAR), the Houthi movement of Yemen are using and developing increasingly lethal and accurate Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), commonly referred to as drones.

The paper, entitled “Evolution of UAVs employed by Houthi forces in Yemen”, documented nine UAVs and one UAV engine, retrieved by the UAE forces operating in Yemen.

It found that whilst the Houthi-led forces have been using earlier variants of drones linked to Iran such as the Qasef-1 in “kamikaze” style attacks, more recently they have sought to modify them by fitting them with improvised fragmentation charges (including nuts and bolts), which are initiated in flight and directed at soft targets, including exposed personnel located below. An example of this, was the 10 January 2019 attack on the Al-Anad air base, when a presumed Qasef-1 detonated in the sky during a military parade, killing six people and wounding many others.

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“It’s not just an evolution in their technology, but their ability to reach targets beyond the conflict,” said Jonah Leff, director of operations at CAR.

A small component inside the drones targeting the Saudi Aramco oil installations last year were also found to be in the arsenal of the Houthis which also matched those recovered in downed Iranian drones in Afghanistan and Iraq. These findings echo reports by the UN that its experts saw a similar gyroscope from an Iranian drone obtained by US forces in Afghanistan and in a shipment of cruise missiles sized in the Arabian Sea destined for Yemen. Some instruments are also similar to those found in improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that Bahraini forces captured from militant factions in Bahrain.

However, Al Monitor quoted Fernando Carvajal, a former member of the UN Panel of Experts who reviewed the report, saying he was “highly doubtful Iran would give Houthis latest-generation technology”.

“This would give [Saudi Arabia] and the US access to Iranian technology since Houthi drones tend to crash” over the border, “risking the possibility that it could end up in American or Saudi hands,” he added.

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The report acknowledges that the Houthi forces have developed locally manufactured drones, relying on some internationally produced technology, “the bulk of evidence gathered from Houthi UAVs recovered by UAE forces, and documented by CAR, reveals that a number of UAV components are identical to components and parts that proliferate elsewhere in the region.”

The recent downing of a Saudi Tornado fighter jet and the capture of the two pilots, caused by an “advanced surface-to-air missile” has also caused concern among the coalition which relies overwhelmingly on superior air power. “This is definitely a cause for alarm for the coalition,” Becca Wasser, a policy analyst at the US-based RAND Corporation, told AFP.

The document was funded in part by the UAE, a joint-leader of the Arab coalition which militarily intervened in Yemen in 2015 following the ousting of the President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi in an attempt to reinstate him and to overthrow the Houthi-led National Salvation Government (NSG) based in the capital Sanaa. At the end of last year, the NSG and Iran signed a military cooperation deal, the first formal agreement of its kind between the two parties.

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