What is the Link Between Houthis' Claim of Possessing Hypersonic Missiles and Russian Involvement in Red Sea Battle?

Sheba Intelligence | 2024-03-18 12:40 PM UTC


On March 14, the Russian "Novosti" news agency quoted a military source close to the Ansar Allah (Houthi) group in Yemen that the group conducted a test of a hypersonic missile that runs on solid fuel and that it will be used in attacks on the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and targeting sites in Israel.

This is not the first time the group has hinted at possessing this type of advanced missile. In 2022, Houthi officials made statements about the group's tendency to possess hypersonic missiles.

In November 2023, a member of the Supreme Political Council, Muhammad Ali Al-Houthi, threatened, in an interview with the BBC, to use hypersonic missiles to target Israel.

Hypersonic missiles were first announced by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2018, when he confirmed that new weapons had been added to the Russian arsenal, including the Kinzhal hypersonic missile.

The first reported use occurred in the Russia-Ukraine war on March 18, 2022.

Do Yemen's Houthis really have hypersonic missiles?

The Sheba Intelligence investigation attempts to answer this question by linking the available information and technical analysis of the quality of these missiles, comparing them to other missiles and the countries that produce them, and the scenarios that led the Russian media to quote leaders in the Houthi group announcing that they possess this type of strategic missiles.

First: What is the hypersonic missile? Its types? And its advantages?

Hypersonic missiles are those that exceed the speed of sound by between 5 and 25 times (that is, they travel in the air at a speed approaching 2 km/second, or about five times the speed of sound), which means that they travel a distance between (6,175-30,875) km in one hour.

According to the technology used in the hypersonic missiles, two categories of missiles differ from each other regarding speed:


1. Boost-glide missiles: This type of missile flies at a high speed and in an arc shape, the peak of which is located at high altitudes above the surface of the Earth. When the peak of the arc is reached, the missile separates from its carrier and falls towards the Earth at a great speed that exceeds the speed of sound (20) times. It covers a distance of 24,700 km in an hour.


2. Hypersonic cruise missiles: Their speed reaches ten times the speed of sound, meaning they travel a distance of (12,350) km per hour. Unlike the previous type, the engines are fixed to the missile and do not separate from it, and their engines are relatively small and light.


The hypersonic missile is capable of maneuvering, and it has several advantages, including:

1. The missile can bypass defense missiles (and at the same time fly faster than them), as well as bypass enemy radars, and circumvent various forms of obstacles, whatever they may be, whether mountains, buildings, or anything else.


2. The missile can change its direction to low trajectories close to the ground while maintaining speed. Because of this, the enemy's early warning radar warning will sound very short before the strike, to the point that there may be nothing to do then, as the time between sensing the presence of the missile and the response of ground defenses is longer than the time required for the hypersonic missile to reach the target.


Second: What is the danger of a hypersonic missile? How can it be confronted?


Hypersonic missiles enter into what is known as the arms race and pose a major challenge to the security of countries due to their ability to maneuver and change course in addition to their great speed. These missiles' characteristics make their interception very challenging for sophisticated armies.


It is known that current ballistic missiles are high-speed, but they cannot maneuver to the same degree as mobile missiles, which are characterized by their ability to maneuver but are not very fast. Hypersonic missiles are distinguished by extraordinary speed and the ability to maneuver, strike, and destroy long-range targets.


The current race between major countries in the field of developing hypersonic missiles is due to their ability to carry nuclear warheads, such as the Russian Avangard missile, which is an intercontinental missile that exceeds the speed of sound, as well as the Chinese DF-27 hypersonic missile, which is designed to carry conventional or nuclear explosives.

Hypersonic missiles pose a major challenge to air defense systems because they can evade enemy radars due to flying on short wavelengths and shifting towards lower levels of radar waves, in addition to the unpredictability of their path. Therefore, there are currently no air defense systems that can intercept hypersonic missiles since the presently functioning defense systems are intended to detect poorly maneuverable ballistic missiles that fly at lower speeds.


Third: Which countries possess hypersonic missiles and the ones trying to own them?


By tracking the arms race between the East and the West, it seems that the Eastern countries were able to develop their missile arsenal by possessing hypersonic missiles, compared to the Western countries that are still trying.


A) Currently, there are only three countries that possess hypersonic missiles:

1. Russia


Russia was able to develop all types of hypersonic missiles five years ago, including:

- The Kinzhal missile flies at a distance of (2000) km and has a speed of Mach 12 (13,500 km/h).



- The "Tsirkon" winged missile, with a medium range (1000 km) and flying 9000 km/hour, was made to hit naval ships, including aircraft carriers.




The strategic "Avangard" missile, which can hit any target on the globe at a speed of up to 30,000 km/hour.




2. China possesses several hypersonic missiles, including:

- The DF-27 hypersonic missile covered a distance of 2,100 km in 12 minutes when it was tested, and it can carry both nuclear and classic warheads. Therefore, it can be considered a strategic and tactical weapon.


The DF-41 intercontinental ballistic missile that China tested in the South China Sea has a maximum range of 9,300 km, and it can reach the United States. The missile can launch the DF-ZF hypersonic hovering warhead at 11,265 km/h.




- The DF-21D medium-range missile called the "aircraft carrier killer" has a speed of Mach 10, and drones adjust its path. The missile is designated to defend the Chinese eastern coast from American ships.




3. North Korea recently joined the list of countries that possess hypersonic missiles.


- The "Hwasong 8" missile is a ballistic missile equipped with a hypersonic hovering warhead, which North Korea unveiled at the "Self-Defense-21" exhibition in Pyongyang after successfully testing it.






B) Countries that are still conducting experiments to produce hypersonic missiles



In mid-2023, France tested a hypersonic missile capable of evading detection for the first time, according to the General Directorate of Armaments (DGA).


:The United States of America

It is still in the development and testing phase, and its most important missil

- AGM-183A ARRW cruise missile that has a hypersonic speed or five times the speed of sound.




- The "Dark Eagle" hypersonic missile was scheduled to be operative at the end of last year but failed in its test conducted in the same year.


C) Countries seeking to produce hypersonic missiles


In 2022, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States announced their intention to expand their military agreement to cooperate on developing hypersonic missiles and defense systems to confront this type of missile.


Fourth: Does Iran possess hypersonic missiles?


To find an explanation for the Houthis' announcement of possessing hypersonic missiles, we need to know whether Iran, which supports the Houthis, possesses this type or not.


- On June 6, 2023, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard unveiled a missile that it said was hypersonic, which it called "Fatah." It was considered the latest strategic achievement of Iran's Air Force, capable of flying at up to 15 times the speed of sound and with a maximum range of 1,400 km. It runs on solid fuel, according to the Iranian IRNA news agency.


-On November 19, 2023, when Iran's Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, was inspecting an exhibition of the achievements of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, the second version, "Fattah 2," was unveiled, less than half a year after the launch of the first version of the hypersonic missile, Fatah.




In November 2023, a spokeswoman for the US Department of Defense, the Pentagon, said that the United States doubts the validity of reports indicating that Iran had developed hypersonic missiles. This skepticism stems from the opinions of experts in the field of missile technology for the following reasons:


-Up to now, there is no concrete evidence that Tehran can use this type of missile as a weapon. There is no conclusive evidence of the veracity of the Iranian allegations from independent sources. No live test or clear use of this type of missile has been conducted.


- When hypersonic missiles reach speeds of "Mach 5" and more, they launch at enormous speeds, so they rely on a supersonic internal combustion engine, "SCRAMJET," that can operate at speeds between Mach 5 and Mach 15 and specific systems, and this requires unconventional engines that Iran does not possess.

-Developing a hypersonic missile requires a different design to maintain the flow of supersonic air inside its engine, which requires technology that Iran has not yet achieved.


- To keep the missile flying at breakneck speeds, it is also necessary to have objects and metals that can withstand temperatures that rise to enormous degrees due to launching at those speeds. That is, there is a need for materials and metals that can withstand more than 2000 degrees Celsius, and these materials are not manufactured or owned by Iran.


The bottom line is that hypersonic missile technology is challenging, combining the complexity of the design and the solidity of the materials used. It is very modern, and only three countries possess it. The engines used in these missiles are unconventional, and Iran does not have such engines.


Therefore, experts say that Iran's announcement of its possession of a hypersonic missile falls within propaganda directed at the countries of the region to achieve the following:


- Prove the seriousness of its threats to Israel. In June 2023, the Israeli-owned Rafael Advanced Defense Company Limited announced the development of a new system to intercept hypersonic missiles.

- Reduce the severity of American threats to Iran.

- Pressure to obtain funds frozen abroad.

- Respond to the extension of Western sanctions on its missile program.


 However, Tehran is expected to obtain Russian hypersonic missile technology soon, especially if Western countries come close to developing it. Russia will arm Iran with hypersonic missiles as part of retaliation to the Western support for Ukraine.


Fifth: Does the Houthi group possess hypersonic missiles?


-In 2022, officials in the Houthi group spoke about the group's intention to possess hypersonic missiles.

-In November 2023, a member of the Supreme Political Council, Muhammad Ali Al-Houthi, threatened, in an interview with the BBC, to use hypersonic missiles to target Israel.


-On March 13, 2024, the Russian "Novosti" agency quoted a military source close to the Houthi group that the group tested a hypersonic missile operating on solid fuel, and its speed reached Mach 8 (about 10,000 km per hour). He said, "There is an intention to launch its production for use in attacks in the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea, and the Gulf of Aden, and to target sites in Israel."


-In early March 2024, the leader of the Houthis, Abdulmaleik al-Houthi, announced that his forces were continuing to develop their military capabilities and that everyone would see "the level of achievements of strategic importance that place our country among the ranks of limited and numbered countries in this world."


So, some scenarios can explain the Houthis' repeated announcement of possessing hypersonic missiles:


The first scenario: The Houthis obtained hypersonic missiles:

This scenario appears impossible for two reasons: First, Iran, which supports the Houthis, has not yet possessed the technology for this weapon, and the Houthis cannot possess this weapon ahead of great powers such as the United States, Britain, France, and South Korea.

Second, the Russians cannot risk transferring the technology of this weapon, which America does not yet possess, to the Houthis or even Iran at present for fear of the technology's exposure to its Western opponents.


The second scenario: Announcing the possession of hypersonic missiles comes within the framework of the media war:


This scenario is expected, as many observers and military experts believe that the Houthi statements about possessing hypersonic missiles are part of propaganda and the media war accompanying the current battle taking place in the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea, and the Gulf of Aden between the Yemeni group and the American, British, and European naval forces.


The third scenario: Covering up Russian involvement in the Red Sea battle


This is the most likely scenario. The Houthi leadership's statements about the group's possession of hypersonic missiles may be aimed at covering up Russian support for the group's missile force in the Red Sea battle to exhaust the United States and its allies, which provide significant support to Ukraine. Sheba Intelligence published on January 8 a report on the delivery of Russian missiles to the Houthi group in Yemen.


Sixth: Expected Russian involvement in the Red Sea battle


If the scenario of Russian support for the Houthis in the Red Sea battle is confirmed, questions rise about the type of weapons that Moscow can deliver to the Houthis and create a significant impact on the international coalition forces. The delivery of hypersonic missiles is excluded.


Information indicates that Russia has delivered advanced anti-ship naval missiles to Syria and Iran in recent years, and this may be repeated with the Houthis, either with direct Russian support or by giving the green light to Tehran or Damascus.


It is possible that the Houthi group obtained the Russian P-800 Oniks (Yakhont) mobile anti-ship missile from Syria via Hezbollah.


It seems that Hezbollah obtained this type of missile from the Syrian army's stores at the end of last year and delivered it to the Houthis. This demonstrated its effectiveness in targeting only three commercial ships in recent weeks, even though the Houthis have launched hundreds of anti-ship ballistic and cruise missiles since November 2023.

Syria obtained the Russian P-800 Oniks (Yakhont) missile in a 2011 purchase from Russia.

In 2017, M-302 short-range ballistic missiles were smuggled from Syria to the Houthi group, which later called them Badr-1 and Badr-P. The missiles were used to target Yemeni government-controlled cities and the southern borders of Saudi Arabia.

The technical specifications of the Russian anti-ship missile, P-800 Oniks (Yakhont) that the Houthis likely obtained are as follows:







8.9 m



0.7 metres


Width of wings

1.7 metres



3100 kg


Weight of warhead

250 kg



Kerosene T-6


Speed at altitude

750 m/s ( 2.6 Mach)


Surface speed

2 Mach






300 km


Steering head

All-weather passive/active single-pulse radar with jump frequency




















Houthis possess the Russian naval missile (P-800 Oniks (Yakhont)): What does it mean?


This type of missile is described as one of the best naval missiles in the world and can be launched from a moving platform or atop a small ship. It is described as a near-hypersonic missile.

There are two versions of this type, the first with a range of 600 km, which Russia has not exported to other countries. The second version, with a range of 300 km, was given to the Syrian army, and it likely reached the Houthis. However, the Russian supply of this missile to the Houthis is not entirely ruled out. This type of missile is accurate even against moving targets, unlike ballistic missiles with an error rate of up to 100 meters when aimed at still targets.


By tracking the precise Houthi attacks on ships, most of them were carried out within a distance estimated at about 150 km through conventional missiles. This means that the Houthi use of the Russian missiles will facilitate the precise targeting of American and British naval battleships, as they can fly at speeds of Mach 2.5 at low altitudes and are difficult to detect. Its destructive power is enormous and can cause damage to aircraft carriers.


With the near-hypersonic missile, Yemen's Ansar Allah (Houthi) group can target ships and battleships on the African coast. It can also hit ships in the Indian Ocean heading to the Cape of Good Hope with high precision through platforms on land or via small vessels in the middle of the sea.