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Silhouettes of Victory: Navy Super Hornet Bears Marks of Houthi Drone Takedowns

US Navy F/A-18E Super Hornets, operating from the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, have been actively engaged in countering Houthi threats in the Red Sea, evidenced by kill marks on one such aircraft denoting downed drones and munitions used against the Iran-backed rebels in Yemen.

221227-N-DU622-1227 PHILIPPINE SEA (Dec. 27, 2022) An F/A-18F Super Hornet from the “Fighting Redcocks” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 22 prepares to launch from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68). Nimitz is in 7th fleet conducting routine operations. 7th Fleet is the U.S. Navy's largest forward-deployed numbered fleet, and routinely interacts and operates with 35 maritime nations in preserving a free and open Indo-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Justin McTaggart)
221227-N-DU622-1227 PHILIPPINE SEA (Dec. 27, 2022) An F/A-18F Super Hornet from the “Fighting Redcocks” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 22 prepares to launch from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68). Nimitz is in 7th fleet conducting routine operations. 7th Fleet is the U.S. Navy's largest forward-deployed numbered fleet, and routinely interacts and operates with 35 maritime nations in preserving a free and open Indo-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Justin McTaggart)

Summary: US Navy F/A-18E Super Hornets, operating from the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, have been actively engaged in countering Houthi threats in the Red Sea, evidenced by kill marks on one such aircraft denoting downed drones and munitions used against the Iran-backed rebels in Yemen. These silhouettes, reflecting the engagement with Houthi’s KAS-04 drones among others, highlight the ongoing military response to protect shipping lanes off Yemen’s coast from Houthi attacks, including the use of anti-ship missiles and drones that have targeted commercial vessels.

USS Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Air Wing Leads the Charge Against Houthis

US Navy fighter aircraft that have been battling Houthi drones and missiles around the Red Sea appear to be sporting kill marks reflecting the threats they’ve eliminated.

A photo published by the Navy last week shows the silhouettes of two drones and 11 munitions painted on the side of an F/A-18E Super Hornet on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, a lead ship in the US military’s response to the ongoing Houthi attacks off the coast of Yemen.

The drone silhouettes painted on the side of the Navy Super Hornet appear to resemble the Houthis’ KAS-04 system. The US military confirmed in November that it shot down an Iranian-made KAS-04, which is also known as a Samad drone, but for the most part, the model of drones that American forces engage has not been disclosed.

Fighter jets belonging to the Eisenhower’s carrier air wing, like the Super Hornet pictured, have been tasked with intercepting Houthi threats in the air and also bombing the Iran-backed rebels directly in Yemen through a mix of both unilateral preemptive strikes and coordinated strikes with US allies.

The munitions painted on the Super Hornet in last week’s Navy photo appear to signal the number of bombs dropped by the aircraft in such strikes, according to the BBC, which captured its own images of the silhouettes during a recent embark on the Eisenhower.

The specific meaning of the munition markings is unclear, but Business Insider observed similar markings on at least one fighter jet during a visit to the Eisenhower in the Red Sea last month.

The painted silhouettes photographed by BI, the BBC, and the Navy resemble kill marks, or victory marking, which typically refers to systems that were shot down by an aircraft’s crew in aerial engagements. This practice has a long history dating back to World War I and has been used by other militaries beyond the US.

US Central Command, or CENTCOM, did not immediately respond to BI’s request seeking clarification on the markings in the photo published by the Navy last week, nor did it specify what munitions have been released by fighter jets in the Ike’s carrier air wing.

For months, US and allied warships and aircraft have been destroying deadly threats like anti-ship ballistic and cruise missiles, one-way attack drones, and unmanned underwater and surface vessels, as they defend international shipping lanes off the coast of Yemen from unrelenting Houthi attacks.

Some of the Houthi missiles and drones have successfully scored hits on commercial ships transiting these key Middle Eastern waters, although the incidents mostly caused minor damage and did not prevent the vessels from continuing on with their journeys.

But in recent weeks, the Houthis have managed to both sink a vessel and kill civilian crew members for the first time in two separate attacks involving anti-ship ballistic missiles.

US forces are now engaging the Houthis — either through preemptive strikes or intercepting their threats in the air — on a routine basis, raising questions about the sustainability of the US-led coalition as it continues to expend resources and munitions.

Navy leadership, however, has stressed that Carrier Strike Group 2 — which consists of the Ike, four destroyers, and a cruiser — will stay in the region for as long as they’re needed.

Super Hornet

Block III F/A-18 Super Hornet.

Pentagon officials continue to emphasize that the preemptive strikes in Yemen are chipping away at the Houthi arsenal and capabilities, but they acknowledge that the rebels continue to receive weaponry and support from Iran.

“We’re under no impression that we have completely wiped off the map all of the Houthis’ capabilities,” Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh told reporters last week. “We know that they continue to have a robust arsenal, they continue to threaten commercial shipping.”

About the Author

Jake Epstein is a defense reporter for Business Insider where this first appeared. He covers national security and global military issues, and monitors US foreign policy developments. He joined BI in 2021 to cover breaking news, and previously worked at The Times of Israel and as a freelance reporter in the Boston area. Jake graduated from Lehigh University in 2020 with a degree in journalism and international relations, and was the editor in chief of the independent student newspaper, The Brown and White.

Written By

Jake Epstein is a Junior Breaking News Reporter on the Speed Desk, based in Boston.

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