White House Denies Claims that Houthis Have Access to Hypersonic Weapons

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What to Know:

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby has stated that there is “no indication” that Houthi forces in Yemen have access to hypersonic weapons, calling Russian state media reports “inaccurate.”

The claim was originally made by Sputnik, who reported that “Missile forces of the [Houthi] movement have successfully tested a missile that can reach speeds of up to Mach 8 and is powered by solid fuel,” adding that “Yemen plans to begin manufacturing it for use in attacks in the Red and Arabian Seas and the Gulf of Aden, as well as against targets in Israel.”

Since November, Houthi forces have conducted continuous attacks against commercial shipping vessels in the Red Sea, which they say are in support of Hamas and its fight against Israel. Similarly, the Houthis have also carried out limited operations attempting to strike Israel itself.

What Exactly is a Hypersonic Weapon?

As I always state when talking about this topic, there is this notion that in order to be a hypersonic weapon, it just needs to travel at or in excess of Mach 5, which is 3,800 miles per hour, but this is really not the case.

The definition of hypersonic weapons nowadays has two criteria, which is that it must travel at or over Mach 5 and that it must also be maneuverable (both vertically and horizontally) within the atmosphere. So with that being said, there are hypersonic weapons and weapons that move at hypersonic speeds. The latter have been around for many decades and a perfect example would be intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), such as the United State’s LGM-30G Minuteman III, which can travel at Mach 23 (17,500 mph).

Image of Iranian Fatah II hypersonic weapon with MaRV.

The reason why most missiles are not considered “hypersonic weapons” is because missiles follow a predetermined, arched trajectory and lack maneuverability within the atmosphere. I understand that the definition is a bit muddy, but roping in ICBMs and hypersonic cruise missiles into the same boat does not do their differences any justice.

So What?

Even if the Houthis did have hypersonic weapons, it almost certainly would not be their own and domestically made. The Houthis either receive weapons from Iran directly or produce domestically made clones of Iranian weapon systems. Iran does not have any hypersonic weapons in service as they continue development of their Fattah II missile with a maneuverable re-entry vehicle (MaRV). In short, if Iran does not have them yet, then the Houthis certainly don’t either.