SECNAV Del Toro: Navy Ready to ‘Respond with Conviction’ to Red Sea Threats

January 11, 2024 1:19 PM
Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro delivers remarks at the NDIA Delaware Valley Chapter (NDIA-DVC) Naval Nuclear Submarine and Aircraft Carrier Suppliers’ Conference at Drexel University, Dec. 14, 2023. US Navy Photo

ARLINGTON, Va. – The Navy is prepared to “respond with conviction” to escalating drone and missile attacks by Iranian-backed militants that reached new intensity this week in the Red Sea, Secretary Carlos Del Toro said. 

Speaking at the Surface Navy Association annual symposium Wednesday, Del Toro said, “we’ve warned the Houthis” there will be consequences if these attacks launched from Yemen continue. 

Earlier Wednesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a press gaggle in Bahrain, “I’m not going to telegraph or preview anything that might happen.” News reports also quoted him as saying, “We’ve made clear, we’ve been clear with more than 20 other countries that if it continues, as it did yesterday, there will be consequences.”

The attacks on shipping in one of the busiest maritime commerce routes for container ships began in October. The Houthis said then they were solely targeting ships bound for Israel and leaving to support Hamas. 

But the reality has been different.

Del Toro said in his presentation “the call rings out for more nations” to join Operation Prosperity Guardian to protect commercial shipping in the Red Sea. He added despite distress calls from merchant mariners whose ships have been struck by the drones or missiles from Yemen or attacked by pirates, China, which has ships in the region, did not respond to the emergencies at sea.

He singled out the destroyer USS Mason (DDG-87) for capturing five pirates who tried to take over MV Central Park in late November.

In his presentation, Del Toro praised the crews of destroyers USS Laboon (DDG-58), USS Gravely (DDG-107), Mason and F/A-18s from carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69), along with the U.K. Royal Navy destroyer HMS Diamond (D34), for downing 18 one-way attack drones, two anti-ship cruise missiles and one anti-ship ballistic missile on Tuesday.

“I’m so damned proud of” ship crews, aviators and Marines “forward deployed, what they are doing,” Del Toro said. There were no reports of injuries or ship damages in Tuesday’s attack.

In a social media post, Central Command said Tuesday’s attack was one of the largest strikes at shipping since the Israel-Hamas war began Oct. 7. The attacks on shipping not only come through the air, but also on the water. An armed unmanned surface vessel launched from Houthi-controlled Yemen got within a “couple of miles” of U.S. Navy and commercial vessels on Jan. 4 before detonating. In late December, 10 Houthis in an assault craft were killed by Navy helicopter crews when they tried to attack another merchant ship and threatened U.S. forces. 

Drawing on his experience in the private sector, Del Toro told attendees at the symposium, “the company that does not constantly innovate is dying.”

As an example of Navy innovation that will revolutionize surface warfare, he cited The Re-Arm at Sea (TRAM) effort underway at Port Hueneme, Calif.

He added, “in this critical decade, the near-term deterrent effect of fielding [TRAM capability] in the fleet cannot be overstated.” The capability to rapidly reload vertical launch system cells would use existing underway replenishment interfaces.

Del Toro said the Naval Sea Systems Command team in Port Hueneme is moving out for shore-based demonstration and scheduling ships for at-sea testing “no later than this summer.” He added that he expects TRAM to be operational in three years or less. 

Adm. Lisa Franchetti, shortly after her confirmation as Chief of Naval Operations, visited Port Hueneme. Del Toro said she “came back impressed by both the system and the progress the team has made there.”

He added he saw great promise in working with the defense industry to improve the service’s missile supply by using common components across the spectrum of naval missiles. He added that this effort, if successful, would be “increasing our efficiency and resilience in manufacturing.”

As Del Toro was ending his speech, he cited the heroism of Petty Officer 1st Class Charles J. French “for his daring, daunting and heroic rescue” of 15 shipmates on a raft after their destroyer was sunk by a Japanese submarine during World War II. 

Hailed as the “Human Tugboat,” French, in his early 20s, “swam for hours,” towing the raft to an island further away from the sinking so his 15 shipmates could escape capture. French, who was Black , “was recommended for the Navy Cross for his actions, but only received a letter of commendation,” Del Toro added.

“With profound conviction and heart brimming with long-overdue recognition, I am proud to announce the name of our newest destroyer, DDG-142, will be the USS Charles J. French.”

Del Toro said, “for too long, we did not recognize Petty Officer French appropriately.”

John Grady

John Grady

John Grady, a former managing editor of Navy Times, retired as director of communications for the Association of the United States Army. His reporting on national defense and national security has appeared on Breaking Defense,,,, Government Executive and USNI News.

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