What Is the Backbone of the Houthi Air Force Capabilities? (Video)

Sheba Intelligence | 2023-10-24 09:34 AM UTC


Drones are part of the Houthi air force capabilities, and the group has launched hundreds of drone strikes over the past years of war. This investigative report reveals details and facts about the Houthi drone capabilities and how Iran assisted in boosting the Houthi strength in this regard. Drones, besides missiles, have been the backbone of the Houthi air force. With the help of these Unmanned aerial vehicles, they have caused massive losses for their war rivals.


This investigative report tracked the technical and operational specifications of drones owned by the Houthi group based on exclusive information from within the group. This information is compared with reports issued by the United Nations Committee of Experts, which investigated the Houthi attacks on vital facilities in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. Moreover, the authors of this report tracked the technical information issued by the companies that manufacture the engines used on the Houthi drones. A comparison between the Houthis' drones and the Iranian ones was also made based on some facts about the drones and their engines.



Types of Houthi drones

This report documents 14 types of drones the Houthi forces used to attack their opponents or display them in celebrations and military parades. The report explores the type of drone, its technical and operational specifications, and the technical specifications of the engine with which it operates. In detail, it reviews the missions of the drone, its dimensions (length and wing width), flight speed, flight range, flight duration, control range, maximum altitude, carried weight,total take-off weight, engine model, engine power, and constant engine propulsion.





Tasks carried out by the Houthi drones

All drones have two tasks: the first is monitoring and reconnaissance, and the second is attack and targeting. Hence, the drones that the Houthis possess are designed to carry out both tasks at the same time, especially the suicide drones that are used to direct missiles at still targets.

For instance, the Houthis use specific types of drones for monitoring and reconnaissance, and such drones are named Raqeeb,  Hudhud 1, Rasid, Marsad, and Sammad 1. As for reconnaissance and carrying out suicide attacks, they use drones named Qasef 2K, Sammad 2, and Sammad 3. For monitoring, targeting, bombing, and attacking, they fire drones called Qasef, Al-Samad 4, Shihab, Waeed, Khatif, and Rajum.


The relationship between Iranian and Houthi drones

The Qasef-2K drone and the Shihab drone are a copy of the Iranian Ababil-T, while the drone called Waeed is a copy of the Iranian Shahed-136 suicide drone.

The Sammad-3 drone is a copy of the Sammad-2 drone, but the former's range was developedby installing a larger fuel tank. The technology of the Ababil 2 drone was transferred to the Sammad-3 drone, whose tasks include reconnaissance and battlefield surveillance, border patrol, aerial photography, and carrying out suicide missions. The drones called (Samad-4, Mersad, Khatib, and Shahab) have been announced but have not been used so far, and they could be among the drones that Iranian experts have developed.


Specifications and cost of the Houthi drones

The Houthi drones are classified as having piston engines and are considered less than 50% efficient. They operate on liquid fuel (gasoline). This type is effective at an altitude of 4,500 meters above sea level, while it is connected to the ground station within a maximum range of 250 km.

The cost of most Houthi drones ranges between US$10,000 and US$20,000 without the ground station. More than 75% of the money goes to the engine, communication, navigation equipment, and camera, while less than 25% of its value goes to purchasing the raw materials from which the drone's body is made into ready molds.




Al-Samad as a sample

Based on the specifications of the Houthi drones, we may find that the cost of the Sammad 3 is the most expensive, and its cost ranges from US$23,000 to US$ 31,000. According to the platforms that sell the parts of such a drone,  the prices are affordable and are as follows:




Flight of Houthi drones

As mentioned above,  the Houthi drones are effective at 4,500 meters above sea level. Some scientific facts about drones need to be considered so that a broader understanding of the capabilities of the Houthi drone is realized. The maximum flight altitude for drones that use piston engines is 7,000 meters, so their speed is about 47  -52 m/s (meter/second). Houthi drones may reach this altitude but cannot carry out tasks when they are at an altitude of 4,500 meters to 5,000 meters. The aircraft's maximum navigation and endurance range decreases by 5.8% and 8%, respectively, with every increase of 1000 meters of altitude.


In theory, after an altitude of 4,500 meters, the air pressure is very low, making drone fansineffective as they cannot push the air to move higher.Aircraft with engines of 20 horsepower fly no faster than 220 km/h, and such engines can lift an aircraft with a load that does notexceed 150 kg. Therefore, Houthi drones of such types cannot fly more than 5,000 meters above sea level, and any flight above that altitude makes it unable to carry out its tasks.



Range control of Houthi drones


There are two control systems for drones: the first is a direct system, which is connected to a ground station or through a space station via satellite, and the second is an indirect system through pre-programming.


Here, we rule out direct control through satellites, as it is costly and is only carried out by developed countries, and these are only used in large drones with high capabilities. That is to say, the Houthi drones use the direct control system via a ground station if the target is within a range of 250 kilometers.


However, if the range is higher than that, then a type of drone that uses a dual system that combines direct and indirect systems is employed. The drone is programmed in advance, devices are added to the body of the drone, and information is entered into these devices and linked to the Global Positioning System (GPS), which is inexpensive.


This type of drone, which flies a distance of more than a thousand kilometers, has a one-way journey because it cannot return. The majority of the Houthi fixed-wing drones have a short range. For example, the fuel tank in the Sammad 3 drone accommodates 29 liters; therefore, its flight does not exceed five hours. It consumes six liters per hour if the speed is between 60-70 km/h, which means its return is not possible.


The distance can be increased to 2,000 km if the explosives, which may weigh 20 kg, are removed and replaced with an additional fuel tank, bringing the total fuel to about 50 liters. However, the drone needs a ground station to guide it because the pre-programming can be inaccurate.




The effectiveness of Houthi drones


If the Houthi drones are of the type with less effectiveness, they may carry only 20 kg of explosives and fly at low altitudes, less than 5,000 meters above sea level, to carry out the tasks of photographing, recording, and shooting effectively. The drones can only be controlled via a ground station within the limits of 250 km or programmed in advance via GPS. So, what are the Houthi drone capabilities and effectiveness, such that it poses a threat to countries with drones and missile systems managed directly from satellites?


The danger of the Houthi drones is that they can cause confusion, whether by directing missiles at targets accurately, dropping the explosives they carry on important facilities such as oil tanks, ports, etc., or exploding to create confusion for the air defenses, facilitating the arrival of the missiles without interception.

The Houthis used drones to target Saudi airports, the Aramco oil facility in Saudi Arabia, and the Emirati port of Fujairah in 2019. They stopped the export of Yemeni oil and gas with strikes on the export ports in Al-Dhaba in Hadramaut and Qena Shabwa in late 2022. Recently, Washington announced that the American destroyer, USS Carney, had shot down missiles and drones over the Red Sea from Yemen and heading north toward Israel.


This is what cheap Iranian drones do in the Russian war on Ukraine. Such drones create confusion with their suicide attacks before the arrival of the missile or before the arrival of highly capable and expensive Russian drones whose mission is to strike and return.



Drone chaos

The Houthis' possession of cheap Iranian drones encouraged the rest of the armed groups to own this primitive type, and the most dangerous of these groups is Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen began using drones to target  Yemeni government forces in South Yemen. A previous report by Sheba Intelligence revealed in September some drone attacks Al-Qaeda group launched in Shabwah in South Yemen. The militant groups' use of drones seriously threatens peace and stability and prolongs chaos in Yemen and the region.