Israel deploys C-Dome naval interceptors against Houthi drones for first time

Navies are scrambling to find cost-effective ways of defending against numerous low-cost drones

A C-Dome missile is launched from an Israeli Sa'ar 6-class warship during live fire tests. Getty Images
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An Israeli warship has fired Iron Dome interceptors at Houthi drones for the first time in the six-month conflict, according to the country's military.

The aerial defence system was designed for land use and has intercepted thousands of rockets from Gaza and Lebanon. Now it has been adapted for warships to counter the growing threat from missiles and drones fired by Yemen's Houthi rebels.

The naval version of the defence system is known as C-Dome.

Israel on Tuesday said the C-Dome had struck a “suspicious” target that entered the country's airspace near the southern city of Eilat.

Last week, a Houthi drone struck a small Israeli navy base in Eilat, hitting a warehouse close to a naval vessel.

The defence development comes as the US, Israel and allies scramble to find cost-effective ways of downing swarms of low-cost drones that cost from $20,000 to $200,000 and can fly low under radar beams for long ranges.

US and Coalition naval vessels trying to counter a Houthi blockade of the Red Sea have intercepted dozens of Houthi drones. However, in many cases they are using interceptor missiles that can cost between $1 million and $4 million.

The number of those weapons is limited, giving the Houthis the chance to gradually overwhelm naval defence systems.

C-Dome, by comparison, costs roughly $50,000 per launch.

By deploying the C-Dome, Israel is a step ahead of US efforts to put Patriot missile launchers – another air defence system designed for ground use – on to ships.

Using the Patriot system boosts the supply of available missiles but does not solve the cost challenge as they also have a high price tag.

On Monday night the Israeli military reported an alert in the area of Eilat, which was also targeted in February by intercepted ballistic missile fire from the Houthis, who are allies of Hamas.

“The target was successfully intercepted by the C-Dome naval defence system,” the military said in a statement released early on Tuesday.

No injuries or damage were reported.

A military spokesperson would not confirm whether the “suspicious” target had been a drone but told AFP this was “the first operational use of C-Dome”.

Mounted on Sa'ar 6-class corvettes, German-made warships, the C-Dome uses the same interceptor as the Iron Dome, according to state-owned operator Rafael Advanced Defence Systems.

Yemen air strikes

The use of C-Dome comes after the US military said on Monday that it had destroyed Houthi air defence and drone systems in the Red Sea area, with no injuries or damage reported to commercial, US and Coalition ships.

Central Command, the US military headquarters for the Middle East, said on X that its forces had destroyed an air defence system with two missiles ready to launch, a ground control station in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen and one unmanned aerial system launched by the Houthis from Yemen over the Red Sea.

Houthi forces said on Sunday they had launched rockets and drones at British, US and Israeli ships, the latest attack in a campaign in support of Palestinians in the Gaza war.

Centcom said on Sunday that an anti-ship ballistic missile was launched from a Houthi-controlled area of Yemen towards the Gulf of Aden, but no injuries or damage were reported by US, Coalition or commercial ships.

Houthi attacks have disrupted global shipping through the Suez Canal, forcing firms to switch to longer and more expensive routes around southern Africa.

Updated: April 09, 2024, 9:43 AM