US Navy’s ship-defense systems may have shown they work in real-life scenarios

USS Mason (DDG-87) is a U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class destroyer equipped with a range of combat systems providing it with capabilities for surface, anti-submarine and anti-aircraft warfare.

The ship also features Raytheon’s anti-ship missile defense systems including the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM) and Standard Missile-2 (SM-2).

On Sunday, October 9, Mason was targeted by what appear to be Chinese-built C-802 anti-ship missiles fired by Iran-backed Houthi fighters in Yemen.

According to a report by the USNI News, Mason’s crew launched two SM-2 missiles and one Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile to defend from the incoming threat.

The destroyer also employed Lockheed Martin’s Nulka decoy. The decoy system works by simulating a radar return from a large ship overlapping the “target” signal. In theory, the decoy provides a larger, more attractive target to the missile consistent with the ASM’s range and angle tracking and moves slowly away from the ship, thus defeating the threat.

While the Chinese-made anti-ship missiles failed to hit their targets and ended up in the sea, Navy officials are still uncertain to what extent Mason’s defense mechanics contributed to the outcome. “It is unclear whether this [Mason’s defense systems] led to the missile striking the water or whether it would have struck the water anyway,” USNI News quoted a defense official as saying.

Regardless of the outcome of an investigation that will show whether the SM-2 really worked, Bryan Clark, a naval analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments told USNI News that the Sunday’s event was a “huge deal” for the Navy as this might have been the first time the SM-2 was used against an actual threat adding that this was definitely the first time ESSM has been used.

USS Mason was off the coast of Yemen in the Bab al-Mandab strait where it was dispatched along with two other U.S. Navy ships following an attack on UAE Navy vessel HSV-2 Swift which almost sank.

HSV-2 Swift is an aluminium high speed transfer vessel with no anti-ship missile defense. A missile similar to one fired at USS Mason hit HSV-2 Swift and caused almost enough damage to sink it.