Photos: Navy tests laser weapon on floating target amid drone threat in Middle East

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – The US Navy said on Wednesday it had tested a laser weapon and destroyed a floating target in the Middle East, a system that could be used to counter bomb-laden drones deployed by Houthi rebels in Yemen in the Red Sea.

Tuesday’s test saw the USS Portland test its laser weapon system demonstrator on the target in the Gulf of Aden, the body of water separating East Africa from the Arabian Peninsula.

The Middle East-based 5th Fleet described the laser as having “successfully engaged” the target in a statement. Previously, the Portland used the laser to shoot down a flying drone in May 2020.

The Gulf of Aden lies along the southern coast of war-torn Yemen, which has been at war since Iran-backed Houthi rebels captured its capital, Sana’a, in 2014. Saudi Arabia entered the conflict in March 2015, but the stalemate has dragged on for years, becoming the world’s worst humanitarian disaster and killing an estimated 110,000 people.

The war also spilled into surrounding waterways, such as the Red Sea and the Bab el-Mandeb, which connects the sea with the Gulf of Aden. These waterways lead to the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea, making them crucial for international shipping and the global energy supply.

The Houthis have deployed drone boats in these waters, which can be remotely piloted and sent to a target before exploding. These boats are believed to have been built with help from Iran.

Emirati officials in 2018 showed footage they described as coming from a drone boat computer that had Iranian building components for the boat’s guidance system, with a hat visible in the background of an image bearing the symbol of the paramilitary Revolutionary Guards die-hard Iranians. Iran has denied having armed the Houthis, although experts from the United Nations, independent analysts and Western countries point to evidence showing Tehran’s connection to these weapons.

The Portland, a San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock, is homeported in San Diego. The ship is deployed as part of the Essex Amphibious Ready Group which is now in the Middle East.

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