Tuesday, April 16, 2024

No Port in the Storm: USS Eisenhower Crew Battles Endless Houthi Onslaught at Sea

HomeWARNo Port in the Storm: USS Eisenhower Crew Battles Endless Houthi Onslaught...

ABOARD THE USS DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER, Red Sea – For over four grueling months, the sailors aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and its fleet of accompanying warships have been carrying out round-the-clock operations in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and Bab-al-Mandeb Strait to defend against relentless missile, drone and maritime attacks by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

The increased frequency of attacks from the Houthis, who have been fighting a civil war against the internationally-recognized government in Yemen since 2014, has meant no rest or port calls for the thousands of U.S. sailors who have maintained a constant combat footing at sea amid the featureless horizon of the Red Sea.

The dangers were on full display this week as Eisenhower strike aircraft conducted over 240 defensive strikes against Houthi maritime targets while ships across the carrier strike group intercepted and destroyed seven anti-ship cruise missiles and yet another explosive-laden unmanned surface vessel targeting vessels transiting the vital waterways.

We are constantly keeping an eye on what the Iranian-backed Houthis are up to, and when we find military targets that threaten the ability of merchant vessels, we act in defense of those ships and strike them precisely and violently,” said Capt. Marvin Scott, commander of the Eisenhower’s eight squadrons of F/A-18 Super Hornet jets, E-2 Hawkeye surveillance planes and MH-60 Seahawk helicopters.

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Since Oct. 17, the Houthis have explicitly threatened to fire missiles and drones at ships, whether military or commercial, in retaliation for Israeli military strikes in Gaza. The rebel forces made good on those threats on Jan. 4 when they targeted a number of vessels, including a UAE-flagged cargo ship, with missile strikes in their first known attack directly against non-Saudi ships in the region.

While drone strikes have been common in past years, the increasing regularity of maritime attacks using drones, cruise missiles and explosive unmanned vessels has put greater pressure on ships transiting one of the world’s most vital shipping lanes.

That’s one of the most scary scenarios, to have a bomb-laden, unmanned surface vessel that can go in pretty fast speeds,” said Rear Adm. Marc Miguez, commander of Carrier Strike Group Two. “If you’re not immediately on scene, it can get ugly extremely quick.”

The persistent threat of explosive boats that can evade radar while approaching targets rapidly has added a new level of complexity to ship defense in the region. It has also increased the operational tempo for strike group assets like the guided missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea and destroyers USS Mason and Gravely as they maintain meticulous air and sea patrols to quickly respond to imminent dangers.

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For USS Laboon and USS Carney, two destroyers also operating in the region, it has meant assisting with over 95 combined drone and missile intercepts since October while making dozens of defensive strikes against Houthi land-based targets.

The punishing operations cycle with no respite has taken a physical and mental toll on the sailors who have now gone over 120 days without setting foot on land or feeling solid ground beneath their feet. However, strike group commanders say rotating crews off station is not an option given the intensifying maritime threats.

Instead, leaders have doubled down on efforts to maintain morale while also keeping crews focused and vigilant against threats – no small task amid the featureless seascape and desert horizon surrounding the strike group.

Aboard USS Gravely, one of the destroyers now on its fifth month holding the line against Houthi attacks, crew members like Joselyn Martinez say leaning on one another has helped cope with seasickness and homesickness during rare quiet moments between tense combat operations.

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“When that alarm sounds directing us to respond, it is like a rush of adrenaline,” said Martinez. “But at the end of the day, we just do what we come here to do and defend my crew and my ship.”

On the aircraft carrier, meantime, the commanding officer says better connectivity to loved ones has proven critical for the over 5,000 sailors aboard the floating four-acre sovereign U.S. territory.

“I was walking through the mess decks the other day and I could hear a baby crying because someone was teleconferencing with their infant that they haven’t even met yet,” said Capt. Christopher Hill, commander of Eisenhower. “It’s just extraordinary, that sort of connection.”

As the operations tempo shows no signs of ebbing in the face of a metastasizing maritime threat from the Houthis, the strike group is bracing for the possibility that its presence will need to be extended beyond the currently scheduled five-month deployment.

For Rear Adm. Miguez, the commitment to stay as long as needed is unwavering amid the trials. “As the threat continues to increase in complexity with drones, cruise missiles and unmanned explosive vessels, so too will our lethality.”

Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee is a prolific author who provides commentary and analysis on business, finance, politics, sports, and current events on his website Opportuneist. With over a decade of experience in journalism and blogging, Mezhar aims to deliver well-researched insights and thought-provoking perspectives on important local and global issues in society.

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