Analysis by , CNN

CNN — US warships in the Red Sea have been battling a growing number of weapons fired by Houthi forces in Yemen over the past several weeks, including an incident on Saturday when a US destroyer shot down more than a dozen drones.

And US faceoffs with the Houthis, who say they are targeting commercial ships headed for Israel after its invasion of Gaza, could grow after Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced Monday a new US-led operation focusing on protecting merchant ships operating in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.

With the recent US naval actions and the announcement of the new US protection initiative, CNN asked naval experts about how warships are dealing with the threats and what problems they may face in the future.

The US Navy has not said what weapon systems its ships are using against the Houthi attacks, but the experts said a US destroyer has a range of weapons systems at its disposal.

These include surface-to-air missiles, explosive shells from the destroyer’s 5-inch main gun and close-in weapons systems, the experts said. They also said US ships have electronic warfare capabilities that could sever the links between drones and their on-shore controllers.

Whatever systems US destroyer captains use, they face decisions on cost, inventory and effectiveness as the mission grows, the experts said.

“The drones are slower and can be hit with the cheaper missiles or even the ship’s gun. Faster missiles must be intercepted with more sophisticated interceptor missiles,” said John Bradford, Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs fellow.

Ship attacks in vital channel take global economic toll

Iran-backed Houthi forces have launched numerous attacks against US interests in the region, and Israel, since the October 7 Hamas attacks in Israel, as fears continue to ripple across the region that the Israel-Hamas war could widen.

The group has said any ship heading to Israel was a “legitimate target” as it puts pressure on Israel to stop its Gaza offensive. They have staged several drone and missile attacks on commercial shipping, and even tried landing commandos by helicopter on one vessel to hijack it.

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