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Houthi Forces Capture US Navy Spy Drone Off Yemen Coast

While a major humanitarian crisis continues to unfold in Yemen as a result of a Saudi-led proxy war now approaching its fourth year, backed by US weapons and equipment which have increased threefold under President Trump, this remains a faceless and nameless conflict unlike the wars in Iraq, Libya, and Syria, with virtually no Western media coverage. As a result, most Americans would have trouble finding Yemen on a map.

Amid the medial blackout, Al-Masdar News (AMN), an Arab world newspaper, reports the Houthi Navy has captured a U.S. underwater autonomous surveillance drone operating off the Yemeni coastline earlier this week.

In the video, four Houthi men are seen seizing the REMUS 600 Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV), designed for area searches, mine countermeasures, surveillance, and reconnaissance operations. The AUV is manufactured by a Norwegian-based defense firm Kongsberg, who received funding from the Office of Naval Research to support the Navy’s growing demand for AUVs. According to AMN News, the Houthis discovered the UUV within the past week somewhere off the coast of Yemen.

The Houthi Navy claims the drone was part of Washington’s continued military support with Saudi Arabia to topple the Houthi regime inside Yemen.

“It is intended to operate in shallow waters, intended to operate in littoral spaces, and is designed to be pretty autonomous,” Dan Gettinger, co-director of the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College, said about the REMUS 600. “It might be the most advanced UUV deployed.”

Typically, the most common Navy uses for a REMUS 600 are mine countermeasures and intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and target acquisition (ISRTA), Gettinger said. Other uses include studying underwater environmental conditions, meteorological research, and underwater mapping of terrain and currents.

The REMUS 600 is between 9 and 18 feet long, depending on the mission and payload, and can travel at about 4.5 knots, according to the US Naval Institute. REMUS 600 was initially developed in 2003 through a partnership with the U.S. Navy and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.

What makes the REMUS 600 so useful for the Navy is its payload and ease in deploying. Gettinger said it typically only requires a patrol boat to put a REMUS 600 in the water.

Once underway, he said the REMUS has about 20 hours of operational use before it runs out of power and needs to be recovered. Gettinger guesses the UUV surfaced when its mission ended and was found by the Houthis before it could be recovered. In the future, he suspects such incidents will become more common as more unmanned underwater vehicles are launched near busy waterways.

“Underwater drones are not as frequently spoken about as UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles),” Gettinger said. “But there’s a recognition, particularly in China and Russia, these will be a part of a future fleet.”


U.S. Navy officials in Washington and at U.S. 5th Fleet would neither confirm whether if the REMUS 600 belonged to the service nor provide details about any unmanned underwater vehicle missions in the region when asked by USNI News.

The Washington Times says an earlier version of the REMUS UAV was responsible for clearing anti-ship mines at Iraqi ports right around the time of the invasion in 2003. History may not repeat, but it rhymes, and with the REMUS 600 UAV roaming the waters off of Yemen, this could be a tacit hint of upcoming naval ambitions by the United States and Saudi Arabia.

An earlier version of the underwater drone, dubbed the REMUS 100 and known within the U.S. Navy’s arsenal as the Mk-18 Mod 1 Swordfish, was used to clear anti-ship mines in the southern Iraqi port city of Umm Qasr in 2003, according to an Office of Naval Research factsheet. The REMUS 600, also known as the Mk-18 Mod 2 Kingfish, replaced the Swordfish in 2010.  

“As part of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Fastlane initiative in 2011, 5th Fleet began receiving accelerated deliveries of Mk-18 [underwater drones] … meeting the urgent need for mine-hunting capabilities in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility,” according to U.S. Navy officials.

This is not the first time a US naval drone was captured in contested waters. In 2016, a Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy seized a U.S. Navy buoyancy glider that was operating in the South China Sea, claiming it was a hazard to navigation. The PLAN ultimately returned the gilder to the U.S. Navy.

As for this particular incident, if it is indeed similar to 2003 when the REMUS 100 was on minesweep duty around Iraq at the time of the US invasion, is today’s (more advanced) REMUS 600 captured in the waters of Yemen a precursor to the next "liberating" US invasion?