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US Navy fires laser weapon in Gulf of Aden amid drone boat threat

Yemeni rebels have been accused of deploying explosive-laden boats in the Red Sea to disrupt global shipping with Iran's backing
USS Portland fires a laser weapon to strike a floating target in the Gulf of Aden amid increasing maritime drone threats. (US Defense Visual Information Distribution Service/AFP)

The US Navy announced on Wednesday that it successfully test-fired a laser weapon in the Gulf of Aden against a backdrop of increasing drone threats posed by Iran and its allies.

The test occurred on the USS Portland while it was travelling through the body of water between the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.

The US Navy said the laser “successfully engaged” its floating target. The Middle East-based Fifth Fleet has conducted similar weapons tests in the past, and last year used a laser to strike a drone.

Spanning from the Red Sea and Arabian Gulf to parts of the Indian Ocean, the Fifth Fleet’s area of operations has recently become awash in drone warfare.

A suspected UAV attack, which the US and its allies blamed on Iran, targeted an Israeli-managed tanker off the Omani coast in July killing two crew members. Iran denied it was behind the attack.

Bomb-laden drone boats and mines have also been set adrift by Iran-aligned Houthi fighters in Yemen.

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The country lies at the crossroads of several crucial waterways, including the Bab-el-Mandeb, an 18-mile-wide maritime chokepoint between Yemen and the Horn-of-Africa through which an estimated 6.2 million barrels of crude oil and refined petroleum products pass each day.

Saudi Arabia warned last month that the Houthis were using remote-controlled explosive boats to disrupt international shipping in the Red Sea.

In April officials said they destroyed a maritime drone targeting the Saudi Red Sea port of Yanbu. The UAE has released documents reportedly showing Iranian Revolutionary Guards figures assembling component parts of Houthi drone-boats.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia intervened in Yemen’s civil war in 2015 after Houthi Ansar Allah fighters seized control of Sanaa, the country’s capital.

The UN has called Yemen the world’s worst humanitarian crisis with an estimated 230,000 people killed and millions displaced by fighting.