Houthis Turn Rarely Effective Strikes into Strategic Success

On June 19, the MV Tutor sank in the Red Sea after the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen launched an unmanned surface vessel (USV) that struck it the previous week. That this was only the second ship that has been sunk in almost 8 months—the first as the result of a USV attack—and only the thirty-sixth that has been hit after over 200 Houthi attacks only underscores that their strikes are rarely tactically effective. Yet, during June the Houthis have mounted an escalation against ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden—both in terms of the frequency of the attacks and the higher number that have hit their targets—yielding a high degree of strategic success by raising costs on shipping and undermining U.S. credibility.

While U.S. and partner forces have similarly intercepted a record number of Houthi drones and missiles this month, the United States has fallen into the Houthis’ strategy of waging costly tit-for-tat attritional warfare since November 2023. Instead, the United States and its partners should expand more cost-effective defensive capabilities in the region—particularly using unmanned or Israeli-made platforms—and conduct more frequent, deadlier, and more destructive strikes against Houthi fighters, sensors, and command-and-control platforms in Yemen.