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CNO Richardson: USS Mason ‘Appears to Have Come Under Attack’

The Arleigh Burke Class guided-missile destroyer USS Mason (DDG-87) on June 24, 2016. US Navy Photo

The Arleigh Burke class guided-missile destroyer USS Mason (DDG-87) on June 24, 2016. US Navy Photo

This post and headline have been updated with additional information from the Department of Defense. While Mason fired counter-measures to protect itself, it is yet unconfirmed if the suspected threats are cruise missiles or originated in Yemen.

A U.S. guided missile destroyer may have been attacked on Saturday off the coast of Yemen by anti-ship cruise missiles for the third time this week, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson told reporters on Saturday.

USS Mason (DDG-87) — operating in the Red Sea, north of the Bab el-Mandeb strait — believes to have fired upon by multiple coastal defense missiles, a Navy official told USNI News. Mason used defensive counter measures to counter the apparent attack and the ship and crew were unharmed, the official said.

Following the Baltimore commissioning ceremony of guided missile destroyer USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000), Richardson confirmed some details on the apparent attack to reporters.

“The latest is there has been recent activity today with the Mason once again. It appears to have come under attack in the Red Sea again from coastal defense cruise missiles fired from the coast of Yemen,” he said.
“So as you know this is the third such attack. We suffered one about a week ago. We also saw one in the middle of last week and now we see more activity.”

In a late Saturday statement to USNI News, Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Gary Ross said U.S. ships launched countermeasures to defend against an apparent attack.

“Earlier today, a U.S. Strike Group transiting international waters in the Red Sea detected possible inbound missile threats and deployed appropriate defensive countermeasures,” Ross said in a statement.
“Our sailors and ships are unharmed, and we are still assessing the situation.”

The latest attack on Mason follows a Wednesday retaliatory strike in response to earlier attacks on the ship. Guided-missile destroyer USS Nitze (DDG-94) fired several Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles into Yemen to target three Houthi radar sites the U.S. said were used to provide information target the anti-ship missiles used in the previous attacks, Pentagon officials told USNI News earlier this week.

In a statement on the Wednesday U.S. strikes, spokesman Peter Cook threatened the U.S. would respond to additional attacks, “as appropriate.”

“The United States will respond to any further threat to our ships and commercial traffic, as appropriate, and will continue to maintain our freedom of navigation in the Red Sea, the Bab al-Mandeb, and elsewhere around the world,” he said.

Mason, Nitze and USS Ponce (AFSB(I)-15) have been operating in the vicinity of Bab el-Mandeb strait following the Oct. 1 attack that destroyed the high-speed logistics vessel HSV Swift operated by the UAE.

The attacks on Mason and Swfit are believed to have been launched by Iran-backed Houthi rebels using Chinese-built C-802 anti-ship cruise missiles supplied by Tehran.
While the Pentagon is reluctant to discuss the countermeasures the ship used, at least during the first attack on Mason the ship’s crew fired Standard Missile 2s and an Evolved Seasparrow Missile (ESSM) to counter the threat, USNI News reported.

“They have everything that they need to defend themselves from these attacks and respond when needed and so we’re proud of the crews – they’ve done terrific,” Richardson told reporters.
“It’s another thing that shows you when we send our sailors overseas that we send them with the very best because it’s dangerous.”

The following is the Oct. 15, 2016 Pentagon statement provided to USNI News on the apparent attack on USS Mason.

Earlier today a U.S. Strike Group transiting international waters in the Red Sea detected possible inbound missile threats and deployed appropriate defensive countermeasures. Our sailors and ships are unharmed, and we are still assessing the situation. We will continue to defend freedom of navigation in this critical waterway, and we will take all necessary steps to respond to threats and defend our personnel and ships.

  • sferrin

    If only we had something like Fasthawk (or even an ATACMs variant) we could fire off as soon as our ship gets painted. Ah well. (Tomahawk is SLOW. Would be nice to nail the offending target before they’re miles away.)

    • CharleyA

      Good luck IDing and fixing the launcher. The ship probably picks up the vampire track some time after launch, and it is not necessarily following a vector that references the launcher. Plus the launcher could be disguised as (or actually is) a commercial vehicle, further complicating identification. The radar stations hit earlier were low-risk targets, chosen by the White House more to send a political message than to cripple the Yemeni’s (rebels?) ability to target the ships – they have plenty of “eyes” that can perform that service.

      • Holygigidy

        We have an air base in Djibouti. Time to get some global hawks or F-16’s flying from there to provide overwatch for these ships so they can strike back against the launchers themselves. This reeks of Iran probing the defenses of US ships because I see no real reason for the Houthis to want to draw the US into the conflict.

        The radar sites likely had nothing to do with the attacks, other than probably intel mining the effectiveness of US defenses. I assume these missiles were just lobbed in the direction of the Mason and were intended to use their own guidance (radar) systems.

        • CharleyA

          Pretty much. These missiles are likely Iranian copies of a Chinese copy of the French Exocet, with some”modernized” INS/GPS guidance, and an active radar terminal phase. The missile flies to some preloaded coordinate then searches for a target using its radar until it runs out of fuel (or malfunctions) or is defeated by kinetic or other measures.

        • Marjus Plaku

          absolutely AMAZING that we apparently have not done this as we seem to not know who, what and where these attacks are coming from despite the fact that it’s been almost a full week now and the third attack. no JOINTSTAR, no strike fighters/bombers, no E-2/E-3 etc… it’s like we’re taking this so casually, oh yeah a Navy destroyer is there it keep dodging the missiles, yeah we’re good, we’ll just lob some missiles once in a while and we’re ok. WTF? this is not the US armed forces that i know!

          • John Locke

            Easy to speculate from the comfort of your keyboard

          • Marjus Plaku

            the confused and indecisive comments coming from the administration heads are not speculation, just a sad display of weakness and incompetence.

          • sferrin

            Isn’t that what you’re doing?

          • sferrin

            “CHANGE” BABY! Just affirmative action at work.

        • Corporatski Kittenbot 2.0

          Apparently some F-16s are moving to Djibouti

      • sferrin

        If only we had something that could hang out in the air listening for radar signals.

        • CharleyA

          What radar are you “listening” for? You don’t need radar to launch these missiles, and the missile’s radar doesn’t go active until later in the engagement. So basically an overhead platform doesn’t help so much in this situation. This is not to say that parking a Global Hawk / Triton track overhead (with the appropriate payload) would be useless – and *maybe* something like that is being done as we speak. Anyway, the ship’s ESM seems to be doing an adequate job detecting (and possibly defeating) these threats.

          • John Locke

            Some stationary overhead infrared would be a nice card to play

          • CharleyA

            Yes. One could reasonably assume that additional measures will be undertaken now that its apparent that *someone* is determined to fix whatever is wrong with their attacks to get a hit on a USN vessel.

          • sferrin

            You mean like uhm, I don’t know, maybe adding a RADAR to the equation? There’s a reason everybody else doesn’t use fishermen with telephones for generating targeting data.

          • sferrin

            “What radar are you “listening” for? You don’t need radar to launch these missiles, and the missile’s radar doesn’t go active until later in the engagement. ”

            Really? How exactly are you finding anything, or generating target coordinates?

          • CharleyA

            Do keep up. The missile guidance radar does not go active until well into the engagement, well within the detection range of the ship. Initial targeting also does not require radar. Shore based assets could sight the ship, and relay that relative bearing to the missile operators. Or perhaps a “fisherman” could radio / phone the target position while underway (lots of vessel ply those waters.) All you really need is a bearing and an approximate range, the missile flies to a predetermined position or distance (pretty close to the target) then switches on its radar, flies a search pattern, then attacks whatever radar return meets its parameters. In any case, the ship *probably* has an initial detection and bearing on the incoming missile near the shoreline and prior to the missile’s radar going active. Having a radar detection asset overhead doesn’t get you an earlier warning, but it might help with resolving the track.

  • Spawn_of_Santa

    Well, somebody’s wanting an @$s kicking.

  • Marjus Plaku

    how hard can it be to spot missile launchers in a confined desert coast with sparse population etc… and why is the US not doing it!?!? why is the rest of the USN and military, USAF etc… sending in assets to monitor this area 24/7 from the air and be ready to locate, identity and target/destroy these missile bandits and their mobile launchers? we have left the destroyers alone and thank god they have defended themselves successfully this far, but letting them stay there without this help to destroy the threat is dangerous because how long can they keep dodging the missiles before the enemy figures out a way to hit them?

  • Bailey Zhang

    CNN are still talking about trump and Hillary, WTF, this is more important because US NAVY are UNDER ATTACK! This should be the main topic of the week! Now US navy should send carriers there and bring more airstrikes!

    • Sherwin Ruiz

      Being attacked with Chinese made missiles… Is this another proxy war in the making?

      • Matt Bowyer

        I think that the Chinese connection is simply business.

    • DaSaint

      I too am amazed at this. For over a week at least 1,000 US lives were at risk, and instead the media is talking about election politics! Had one of those vessels been hit, or if one is hit, the media will be scrambling to explain how this story just popped up.

  • Earl Tower

    Some one in the DoD needs to change the ROE for the US Navy. If they are fired upon, the site where the missile came from should immediately come under retaliatory strikes.

    • Kev789

      They don’t know where the “site” is located and the “site” could be indistinguishable from a civilian truck.

      • Earl Tower

        And that is why more ISR should be airborne at all times over US Naval forces, even lone ships running drones. Then some one fires, they get counter fire returned as soon as the naval platform can fire. And I am willing to bet they have far more airborne assets in the area and have a pretty good idea of the launch point if they bother to pay attention. And if you have three suspected sites, hit all three of them. You’ll likely get it at one of ’em.

        • Kev789

          Agree with you generally except airborne ISR at all times would be a bit of an overkill much of the time; e.g., when transiting the Atlantic. Also, I’m not sure what good it would do to destroy the tractor trailer launch point when, say, a dozen such disguised vehicles are roaming around in a densely populated area. But I’m confident that our guys are working diligently on this – it will be interesting to see what happens. Maybe we could do something about the small boats that may be acting as spotters, such as jamming their radios.

    • Matt Bowyer

      Or: you could (given that the ship has successfully fended off the attack and is no longer currently in danger) use intelligence and reconnaissance to pinpoint appropriate targets for retaliation, deterrence and prevention and then whack them with precision-guided munitions – ie exactly what they just did.

  • Luis Miguel Gomes Valentim

    Go home yanks ,you aren`t under attack you are attacking others all the time …assassins

    • sferrin

      Who was the USS Mason attacking? And speaking of “go home. . .” you first.

    • DaSaint

      Last I checked terrorists have attacked where you live also ole chap. Guess you’ve been under attack too then.

    • Marcd30319

      Why does this news blog continue to allow ignorant free-loading non-members to even post here?

      I am a paying USNI member since 1974 and yet the idiots who run this news blog refuse to address this situation. I have tried on three different occasions to get some reason, but no reply.

      This is inexcusable.

      • Bill

        Great point. How hard would it be to make it USNI members only?

        • sferrin

          Aviation Week added comments sections to all of its articles, for all and sundry to post in, and the place has turned into a Tumblr wannabe.

          • CNKChasman

            You are exactly correct sferrin. AS&ST comments are as painful as some of these.

      • Horn

        Do what I do, just block the user. You’ll never see them again. Sure, it consumes some time, but it’s worth it in the end.

        • Marcd30319

          Horn, that only hides the problem which is non-members posting at a blog that members contribute their dues.

          • Horn

            I never said it was perfect. 🙂

          • Marcd30319

            That is an understatement. The question remains – why are non-members who happen to have a Disqus account being allows to post at the news blog message board? I think members-only access should be allowed. After all, we pay membership dues to join the Institute. These Disqus guy don’t.

    • MDWhite

      Pardon, senor…but….are you pounding the keyboard with your forehead again? You should stop now…it’s a public computer and others in the library have to use it.

  • Matt Bowyer

    Presumably in your haste to deliberately misspell Obama’s name as a sort of childish insult you just skipped over the bit about the Tomahawk missiles?

  • John Locke

    right, cause drone strikes and bombing the crap out of ISIS is just a video game

  • John Locke

    Your assertions a laughable unless you’re on the MASON

  • DaSaint

    Leadership has authorized defensive and offensive responses accordingly, and will continue to do so. At lease have some respect for the roles and responsibilities of the Office of the President, even if you have none for the individual. It’s a gross disrespect to think that the appropriate orders would be withheld.

  • Araya

    At least it is good to see that the US DDG51 can dodge & soft/hard-kill the Chinese Anti-ship missiles. Missiles like the C802/3 are the primary Weapon of the PLAAN, so it is at least soothing to see that the preform miserable against the US DDGs.

    • Chillaxian

      If we’re going to judge this impartially we have to admit the number of missiles deployed in each individual attack, even all the attacks combined, don’t represent a realistic saturation attack.

      These missiles are designed to be launched in mass salvos, of dozens of missiles, to overcome the ship’s defensive systems… to really judge these systems we’d need to see a true saturation attack.

      I have yet to see any info outlining how many of these systems the Houthis possess / Iran has given them… maybe these attacks are a lead up to a larger saturation attack? IDK, but until than I don’t think we’ll be seeing these missiles get through.

      • airider

        Missiles cost money…even for the enemy….the saturation threat will only be seen in an all out near-peer situation.

      • Most likely the Iranians have turned over their older C-802s to who ever it is shooting at our ships. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the C-802s broke apart with their rocket engines well past the expiration date. With the windfall from the administration’s latest deal, I’m sure that new replacements are already on the way to Iran from the Chinese.

  • Marauder 2048

    Raytheon couldn’t have contrived a better scenario for JLENS than what’s happening in the Red Sea if they tried.

  • Rhymerez

    “Earlier today, a U.S. Strike Group transiting international waters in
    the Red Sea detected possible inbound missile threats and deployed
    appropriate defensive countermeasures,” Ross said

    A week off the same area of the coast “transiting”? What are they using to move the ship, rowers?
    Reeks of Gulf of Tonkin

    • Andy

      This is probably just a reference to be ship claiming Transit Passage status under the UNCLOS at the time of the attack. I suspect the MASON has been continually patrolling the BAM by transiting through, turning around in international waters on the other side, and going back through again.

      • Ed L

        Are Boarding and Searchs still happening in the Red Sea

  • Bill

    To paraphrase the CNO, our security interests “appear to be under attack all over: the South China Sea, Baltic, Black Sea, Ukraine, Syria, Libya, Iraq, Straits of Hormuz, etc.”. Nothing to do with Presidential leadership, I am sure.

    • John Locke

      Same as it ever was. Even your beloved Reagan tried to deal with bad guys everywhere.

  • eddie046

    Appears to have come under attack? Really? OMG this PC stuff is killing me! If Reagan was president Yemen would be a smoldering ash heap right now!

  • eddie046

    Too bad on of the Iowas isn’t still in commission, I’d send it offshore and do about 2 or 3 weeks of gunnery practice on everything in rang.

  • TankFac

    “Appears to have come under attack” – seriously?

    • Jack

      Yeah, like Alleged….or Suspected

  • MNF

    My brother is a Lieutenant Jr. Grade on the Mason. Really wish they would stop firing on him.