WASHINGTON — Houthi rebels appear to be using Iranian-made drones to ram Saudi and UAE missile defenses in Yemen, according to a report by the group Conflict Armament Research.
Houthi rebels — officially called Ansar Allah — and forces aligned with former President Ali Abdullah Saleh have increasingly employed advanced weapons, including unmanned aerial vehicles.
Drones are being used by rebels to ram Saudi-led coalition missile defense systems in what are being referred to as "Kamikaze attacks."
CAR documented several cases of the tactics in October 2016 and February 2017. The aircraft were reportedly brought to Yemen overland from Oman, according to the analysts.
The recovered drones are referred to by rebels as the Qasef-1, according to images released by the Houthis. Houthi rebels allege that the drones were built in Yemen, but CAR's report suggested that they are practically indistinguishable from the Iranian Ababil-T drone, as well as the smaller Ababil-CH drone.
"The Qasef-1 not only shares near-identical design and construction characteristics with the Iranian UAV, but also features identical serial number prefixes," reports CAR. "These features suggest that the Qasef-1 is an Iranian-designed variant of the Ababil-CH or Ababil-T."
The report also notes that six drones intercepted after traveling through Oman were found on a known smuggling route between Iran and Houthi rebels.
The UAE reports that rebels have been flying the drones into the radar sets of the Saudi-led coalition's Patriot missile systems, used to combat airborne missile threats in addition to enemy aircraft. With radar disabled, rebels can then openly fire missiles at coalition forces.
The original Ababil unmanned aircraft have been around since the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, reports the Washington Post.
While the drones have only been used to ram radar systems thus far, the threat of further application of the UAVs as flying bombs is very real. In January, Houthi rebels filled a remote controlled boat with explosives, attacking a Saudi frigate in the Red Sea, according to Vice Adm. Kevin Donegan, commander of the Bahrain-based US Fifth Fleet and head of US Naval Forces Central Command. In that attack, Donegan said he believed that Iran played a role.
"I don’t know that it’s Iranian-built, but I believe that its production in some way was supported by Iran," Donegan said then.
Donegan bases his theory off of weapons shipments seized in the past.
"About a year ago we began and were successful in interdicting about four weapons shipments of things going to Yemen," he said. "[The United Nations] said specifically that the weapons came from Iran and were destined for Yemen in violation of UN Security Council resolutions," he added.