Sky victory: US Harrier pilot takes down seven Houthi kamikazes

To safeguard maritime vessels navigating the Red Sea, the US Navy utilized aircraft not only from their impressive fleet of aircraft carriers but also deployed versatile amphibious ships. A prime example of this is the AV-8B Harrier II, an aircraft renowned for its vertical takeoff and landing capabilities. 

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During this operation, one pilot from the US Marine Corps Aviation Squadron 231, Captain Earl Earhart, boasts a remarkable record. He was stationed aboard the multipurpose amphibious assault ship USS Bataan. According to Earhart, during the period of the US Navy’s presence in the region, he successfully eliminated no fewer than seven kamikaze drones belonging to the Yemeni Houthis. 

Should these claims gain verification, Earhart is set to earn a prestigious spot in American aviation history. Specifically, he will sit at the top spot as the most efficient American pilot in terms of downing aerial targets since the Vietnam War, as reported by the BBC.

Adapt on the fly

In the words of US Air Force Captain Earl Earhart, they found themselves having to adapt “on the fly” to utilize their Harriers specifically as an anti-aircraft mechanism. These aircraft are already equipped with a suitable array of weapons and tools for such challenges – including air-to-air missiles like AIM-120 and AIM-9 variants, the in-built 25-mm automatic cannon GAU-12 Equalizer, and the on-board AN/APG-65 radar. 

When tasking the AV-8B Harrier II with aerial targets, a command post from the esteemed Arleigh Burke class of US Navy destroyers is engaged. The target acquisition is conducted using the state-of-the-art Aegis fire control system.

Sky victory: US Harrier pilot takes down seven Houthi kamikazes
Photo credit: US Navy

How were the kamikazes brought down?

Let’s delve into the fascinating process of intercepting kamikaze drones flown by Yemen’s Houthi rebels over the Red Sea, as described by a US “Harrier” pilot. 

According to our pilot, Earhart, the downing of these unmanned aerial vehicles [UAVs] typically occurs at close quarters using aircraft guns. This method, however, presents a risk. The airborne debris from the exploding drone could potentially damage the intercepting aircraft. 

Employing short-range air-to-air missiles such as the AIM-9 introduces its own set of challenges. The kamikaze drones emit a low thermal profile, making it considerably challenging for infrared seekers to lock onto them.

Sky victory: US Harrier pilot takes down seven Houthi kamikazes
Photo credit: US Navy

Similar story

An engaging report from The Drive has highlighted the challenges Ukrainian MiG-29s are facing when pitted against Shahed-136 kamikaze drones, procured by Russia from Iran. A prominent character in this narrative is an Air Force aviator aptly called “Juice”

Speaking candidly to American correspondents, “Juice” admitted that he has not yet been successful in shooting down even a single Shahid with his aircraft. This is despite his current tasks involving QRA duties, which are rapid response flights carried out around the clock to intercept aerial targets under Russian command. 

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Juice” entertained journalists with anecdotes from his active flying maneuvers in October 2022, designed to intercept Shahid drones. There were moments when he was perfectly positioned to ‘lock onto’ a kamikaze drone and was almost ready to start his attack. 

However, the challenge was that his aircraft was hovering above a populated area at that exact moment, which made him reconsider his strategy. Downing the drone over a residential zone could potentially cause widespread damage, leading him to opt for a safer alternative. As a result, the Shahed-136 drone was diverted from the settlement and handed over to mobile units equipped with MANPADS and anti-aircraft guns. These ground-based defenses successfully destroyed the drone. 

Indeed, it might seem counter-intuitive, but each weapon in the MiG-29’s arsenal presents unique challenges under specific drone-hunting circumstances. The onboard 30mm cannon, for example, functions effectively only if the drone is intercepted during daylight hours and is within a direct line of sight. 

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Navigating clear weather conditions, the R-73 missiles with infrared homing mechanisms work best. Even though the P-27 missile features a radar homing system, Ukrainian pilots are obligated to bring their fighter jets dangerously close to unmanned kamikaze drones to deploy them. 

Compared to these intricacies, intercepting cruise missiles presents a different situation. Countering these missiles using a MiG-29 is arguably a smoother operation than dealing with kamikaze drones from Iran. 

Another case

Major Vadim Voroshilov, a Hero of Ukraine known by his call sign “Karaya”, shared a particularly captivating aspect of his experience. He pointed out that the Russians typically target their kamikaze drones at twilight. At such times, Ukrainian pilots have to rely heavily on ‘instrument’ techniques, using GPS for navigation. 

Operating under these conditions presents its own set of challenges. Identifying the location of specific settlements becomes increasingly difficult as traditional navigation markers, particularly lights from occupied buildings, vanish. This absence of light emanates from essential power conservation measures, necessitated by Russian attacks on Ukraine’s energy sector.

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