Admiral: Attacks Like Those on USS Mason Will Become More Common

October 27, 2016 4:55 AM - Updated: October 26, 2016 10:57 PM
USS Mason (DDG-87) pulls into the Port of Djibouti escorted by Coastal Riverine Squadron 8 Sea Ark patrol boats on July 23, 2016. US Navy Photo
USS Mason (DDG-87) pulls into the Port of Djibouti escorted by Coastal Riverine Squadron 8 Sea Ark patrol boats on July 23, 2016. US Navy Photo

The Navy should prepare for a future operating environment where anti-ship weapons propagate globally and attacks such as the recent ones against guided-missile destroyer USS Mason (DDG-87) are more commonplace, one the service’s top budget officials said.

Vice Adm. Joseph Mulloy, deputy chief of naval operations for integration of capabilities and resources, said at the Naval Submarine League’s annual conference Wednesday that the service is not only focused on the current threats posed by potential adversaries such as Russia, Iran and North Korea, but also potential threats down the road if these countries sell their weapons to third-world countries and non-state actors.

“USS Mason down there off the coast of Yemen – we can’t prove anything right now, but I guarantee that Yemen by itself is not going to produce a Silkworm missile, a bunch of different radars – it just isn’t going to happen in a third-world country,” Mulloy said.
“It’s coming from somewhere, and the propagation of the selling of this stuff – I mean Iran is trying to get more advanced stuff from Russia and they’re selling it on the secondary market. So what is amazing is, in the next few years, everywhere the Navy goes, if you’re not in a submarine, you better watch out because every crappy country will be able to launch high-speed missiles at you and the propagation of that is going to be amazing.

“What it indicates is, if you want to be there initially to check what’s going on, you better either have a fabulous set of radar and missiles, or you better be a submarine and be able to watch what’s going on,” he said.

Over the course of a week this month, Mason operating near the Bab el-Mandeb strait came under attack at least on two separate occasions from guided anti-ship cruise missiles that were widely believed to be provided to Houthi rebels by Iranian forces.

Specifically, naval analysts have told USNI News the missiles are likely Chinese-built C-802 (NATO reporting name CSS-N-8 Saccade) missiles based on the widely exported French Exocet missile.The attacks are the first time a U.S. warship has fired SM-2 missiles to ward off the attack from an anti-ship cruise missile threat. Following a retaliation strike by the U.S. after the second attack, Houthi forces are also suspected to have attacked Mason a third time. The Navy is still studying radar tracks to determine if the radar tracks to which the crew reacted were actually missile threats.

Destroyers Mason, Nitze and the afloat forward staging base USS Ponce (AFSB(I)-15) have been operating off the coast of Yemen in the vicinity of Bab el-Mandeb and the Red Sea following an attack on the UAE operated HSV Swift in which Houthi rebels claimed responsibility.

Mulloy’s comments came as he was setting the scene for Navy budget decisions, particularly the need to fully fund the Columbia-class (Ohio Replacement) ballistic missile submarine so the first boat is ready for its scheduled 2031 patrol, as well as the need to continue driving cost out of the already ahead-of-schedule and below-cost Virginia-class attack submarine program. The service is looking for ways to insert an additional attack sub into the Fiscal Year 2021 budget to help blunt the impact of an SSN shortfall throughout the 2020s and 2030s.

Combatant commanders already request more attack boats than are available, and the upcoming dip below the required 48 SSNs will only make it harder to meet these operational needs. Additional requirements for submarines if surface ships face a greater cruise missile threat – as Mulloy suggested – would only further complicate the ability for the Navy to provide enough submarine presence around the globe.

Megan Eckstein

Megan Eckstein

Megan Eckstein is the former deputy editor for USNI News.

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