Guns and Gear

New Details On Failed Attack On USS Mason

Harold Hutchison Freelance Writer

The encounter that the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Mason (DDG 87) had with a pair of anti-ship missiles off the coast of Yemen  now involved the use of the destroyer’s powerful surface-to-air missile battery. The 9 October attack is believed to have been carried out by Houthi rebels, who are sponsored by Iran.

According to the United States Naval Institute’s blog, the Mason fired three missiles, two RIM-66 Standard SM-2 missiles and a single RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile, during the engagement north of the Bab el Mandab. The destroyer was escorting US Ponce (ASFB(I)-15) at the time of the attack and also used a Nulka decoy during the engagement. This marks the first use of the RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile in combat, and the first time the SM-2 was used for its intended purpose of air defense.

The RIM-66 Standard SM-2 has been in use since 1978 to provide area defense for the Unied States Navy. This missile replaced the Tartar, Terrier and Talos missiles for that purpose. The missile has a range of anywhere from 40 to 90 nautical miles, depending on the version, and it uses semi-active guidance. The missile fits into Mk 41 Vertical Launch System (VLS) cells. It has a top speed of Mach 3.5.

The Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (or ESSM) entered service in 2004. This is a point-defense missile – albeit with a range of up to 27 nautical miles. This missile has a top speed in excess of of Mach 4. Notably, the ESSM comes in quad-packs, meaning four missiles can fit into a single Mk 41 VLS cell. Like the SM-2, it uses semi-active guidance.

The Nulka decoy system uses a rocket that is fired, and which can hover for a bit. It purpose is to seduce an incoming missile into going after the phantom target, as opposed to the real warship. US Navy warships can fire the Nulka from the same launchers used for the Super RBOC chaff rockets.

The missiles fired at USS Mason are believed to be Iranian copy of the Chinese C-802 missile, called the Noor. The Noor was used against the Israeli corvette Hanit in the 2006 Lebanon War, and only a freak hit on a crane that caused some damage. The C-802/Noor has a top speed of Mach .9, a range of just under 75 miles, and delivers a 419-pound warhead.

The United States Navy is still investigating the incident. On 1 October, HSV-2 Swift, a former U.S. Navy vessel now owned by a civilian firm in the United Arab Emirates, was attacked and hit by at least two RPG rockets, causing damage to the vessel.