On February 23, the Houthis unveiled several new anti-aircraft missiles currently in service with the Yemeni Air Defense Force.
The missiles were presented in an exhibition attended by senior officials of the Yemeni group and its government, including Mahdi al-Mashat, the president of the Supreme Political Council, and Defense Minister Maj. Gen. Mohamed al-Atifi.
“The new air-defense systems will change the course of the battle with aggression, and they will be an introduction to more sophisticated and effective defense systems,” the al-Mashat told the Yemeni media while attending the exhibition.
The exhibition was named after Abdulaziz Mohammed Al-Muharram, a Yemeni technical and air-defense operator who was killed while he was repelling an attack by the Saudi-led coalition on the Yemeni western coast. Al-Muhrram was allegedly responsible for the development of some missiles presented in the exhibition.
Three locally- modified anti-aircraft missiles dubbed Thaqib-1, Thaqib-2 and Thaqib-3 were showcased in the exhibition for the first time ever. A fully-operational SA-6 “Gainful” system, that had been upgraded by the Yemeni group, was also presented.
More than two years ago, the Saudi-led coalition revealed that the Houthis had converted the R-73E to a ground-to-air missile. The coalition released photos of the vehicles’ the Houthis used to launch the missile.
Originally, the R-72E has a range of up to 30 km. However, the variant modified by the Houthis has an effective range of 9 km only. This shorter range was expected as air-to-air missiles lose much range when they are launched from the ground because they are designed to be launched from warplanes on high altitudes and speeds.
The Thaqib-2 is also a modified copy of a Soviet air-to-air missile, which is the medium-range R-27T.
Just like the R-73E, the R-27T is guided by infrared homing with the “fire and forget” feature. The missile’s original range can be up to 70 km. However, the Thaqib-2 engagement range was set as 15 km only by the Houthis.
Over the last year, the Houthis shot down several UAVs, some armed, of the Saudi-led coalition and the U.S. Army over Yemen.
The Thaqib-3 is also a modified air-to-air missile. However, a much more advanced missile, the Russian-made RVV-AE.
Unlike the R-73E and R-27T, the RVV-AE is guided by active radar homing. The missile is also equipped with an inertial navigation system with mid-course update.
The RVV-AE was designed to engage targeted beyond line of sight, with a range of 80-100 km. However, the variant presented by the Houthis have a range of 20 km only, likely because the RVV-AE was designed to be launched from air.
The effeteness of Thaqib-1 and 2 against fighter jets remain very limited due to the presence of heat countermeasures. The RVV-AE, however, is not affected by such jamming means. This and the missile’s longer range makes it perfect for engaging fighter jets.
The Thaqib-3 may have been used by the Houthis to shoot down a Tornado IDS fighters jet of the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) over northern Yemen last week.
The Houthis likely obtained R-27T, R-73E and RVV-AE missiles from the stockpiles of the Yemeni Air Force in 2015. The Yemeni Air Force used to operate these types of air-to-air missiles, and others like the R-27R, on its Mig-29SMTs.
First showcased by the Houthis last August, the Fatir-1 is a locally-upgraded Soviet-made SA-6 “Gainful” air-defense system.
Originally, the SA-6 system has a range of 25 km and engagement altitude of up to 8 km with its slandered armament, the 9M336 missile, guided by semi-active radar homing. However, the system presented by Houthis is supposedly “heat-guided” with a range of 22 km only.
Just like the air-to-air missiles, the Houthis likely obtained the SA-6 system from the stockpiles of the former Yemeni Air Defense Force.
The Fatir-1 system was successfully used to shot down at least two MQ-9 Reaper unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) of the U.S. military. The first one was shot down over the coastal Yemeni city of al-Hudaydah last June, while the second was downed over the city of Dhamar a few days ago only.
Aside from the RVV-AE, the systems revealed by the Houthis today were previously announced by the group itself, or identified by exports. Regardless of this, the hard work the Houthis put into modifying and developing these systems reflects the group’s serious effort to develop its air-defense means.
The Houthis, according to the words of their own officials, are hiding many other, possibly more advanced air-defense systems. The upcoming few months may reveal some information about these systems, as the Yemeni group had promised that 2020 will be the “year of air-defense.”