On Board HMS Diamond Amidst ongoing Houthi Attacks

Upon hearing the alarming cry of “fireball,” the crew of HMS Diamond must swiftly spring into action within a mere two minutes.

During that period, they must determine if the missile, which is moving at a speed over three times the speed of sound, presents a direct danger to their ship and the surrounding merchant vessels.

We had the exclusive opportunity to be on board HMS Diamond after it became part of the US-led operation to safeguard merchant shipping in the Red Sea. We experienced the danger directly as she braced herself to face the Houthi drones and missiles launched from Yemen.

The captain of HMS Diamond reports an increase in the sophistication and deadliness of the weapons being used by the Houthis.

Cdr Pete Evans discusses the primary threat faced by the ship when it entered the Red Sea in December: one-way attack drones, or UAVs. However, he points out that the Houthis have shifted their focus towards conventional and ballistic missiles, which pose greater challenges in terms of defense and inflict more significant damage.

We embarked on our journey as the crew conducted the last inspections of the ship’s weapons systems.

The ship’s main Sea Viper missiles were already prepared, tucked away in a silo at the front of the ship – with faint scorch marks serving as a reminder of previous launches. Every missile comes with a hefty price tag of over £1m ($1.3m). They serve as the ship’s primary form of protection. However, Diamond is equipped with Phalanx machine guns and 30mm cannons on each side of the ship, which serve as close-in weapons.

The Phalanx has an impressive firing rate of over 3,000 rounds per minute. The crew has successfully utilized the 30mm cannon to shoot down a drone, marking a significant milestone.

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Diamond has been assigned the important duty of safeguarding merchant ships as they navigate through the vital trade route of the Red Sea. However, for this mission, she would be accompanying a naval task force of UK support ships heading towards the Indian Ocean, with the added security of two US destroyers.

“There is a consistent occurrence of drones and missiles, so it is highly likely that it will happen,” stated Lt Tyrie.

At this point, the entire crew had swapped their blue uniforms for fire-resistant white overalls. We were all given anti-flash hoods and gloves to wear in case the ship was hit.

The upper decks were deemed off-limits, accompanied by a subdued red lighting in the ship’s passageways. Images of Iranian-designed drones are showcased on the decks, possibly indicating their potential use against the vessel.

We were inside the operations room, the ship’s nerve centre, where the crew diligently observed rows of monitors and screens. Using the ship’s advanced radar system, they are able to monitor numerous objects at once over long distances.

At 20:35, a whistle blew and a voice shouted “fireball” – the signal for a detected missile launch. The ship’s alarm blared, jolting the rest of the crew into action. The urgent message echoed through the vessel: “Air threat warning red – missile inbound.”

As they monitored the missile’s trajectory, they provided regular updates. The level of air threat was downgraded from high to moderate and then to low. The atmosphere relaxed as sailors took off their protective gear.

One of the four anti-ship ballistic missiles was launched by the Houthis that night. Lt Cdr Martyn Harris, Diamond’s executive officer, described the urgency of their response to the launches, as they had a mere two minutes to react to a missile that was moving at over three times the speed of sound.

“Yes, it can be quite overwhelming when someone is possibly attempting to launch something in your direction,” he remarked.

Diamond has previously been a target of the Houthis, although this time the missiles did not present an immediate danger.

Just two days later, there is yet another warning about a “fireball” at 03:20. Once again, there is an urgent call, and the team quickly moves to their designated spots. Once again, the missile fails to reach its intended target and instead plunges into the ocean.

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HMS Diamond has not yet intercepted any Houthi missiles. However, it managed to neutralize a total of nine Houthi drones, with an impressive seven of them being taken down in a single night in January. The ship’s bridge proudly displays the silhouettes of the nine drones. Diamond has become the first Royal Navy warship to successfully neutralize an airborne threat in nearly three decades.

There’s yet another intense moment during this escort mission, as they discover a signal from the ground to a group of Houthi drones. The UAVs are currently flying in a northerly direction near the task group. It’s a dangerous twist on a classic game of hide and seek. However, the drones seem to be unable to detect them, and a US warship in the northern region later takes down one of them.

Erin Graham, a prominent figure, has firsthand experience with such situations. On 9 January, she held the position of the ship’s electronic warfare director on duty. She characterizes it as a significant swarm attack that rapidly intensified.

There were a total of 18 drones. Six targets were successfully neutralized by Diamond’s Sea Viper missiles, while another was effectively engaged by its 30mm cannon, which was remotely operated from the operations room.

Erin, 22, emphasized the importance of staying composed and focused while going through the drills.

Diamond’s Captain, Cdr Pete Evans, describes the tempo of operations as demanding, given the hot and humid conditions. “The intensity of the situation can be overwhelming,” he remarks, describing moments of prolonged inactivity followed by sudden bursts of life-threatening danger.

The 224 military personnel on board have busy schedules, with shifts ranging from eight to 12 hours, leaving them with limited time to relax. When they’re not resting, many relax in the gym or enjoy some television. In the officers’ wardroom, they were enjoying a screening of Hornblower, the thrilling drama series set during the Napoleonic era.

Wi-fi availability is restricted and may be disabled during times of heightened security.

Even in more peaceful conditions, in the Gulf of Aden, the task is far from complete.

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Diamond dedicates multiple days to closely monitoring a suspicious fishing vessel, commonly referred to as a dhow. The stateless status has been declared, providing a legal basis for conducting a search. However, it has also been displaying an Iranian flag.

The ship’s dedicated team of Royal Marines ensure the safety of the vessel while another team carries out the search. They’re searching for contraband, but ultimately come up empty-handed.

The US has made a direct accusation, stating that Iran is supplying weapons to the Houthis. However, the captain of Diamond’s team is more careful.

Cdr Evans acknowledges the possibility of weapons smuggling, but refrains from speculating on their origin.

There are numerous comparable small boats navigating the vast expanse of the Gulf of Aden. Halting the flow of weapons could prove to be an even greater challenge than putting an end to the Houthi attacks.

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