The U.S. Navy says it is on heightened alert after receiving what it calls "credible" al-Qaida threats against American warships and commercial vessels in the Gulf of Aden, the Arabian Sea, and the Persian Gulf. The latest threat from Osama bin Laden's terror network calls on followers to gather intelligence about ships and their sailors so that they can be targeted for attacks.
The threat, made on December 31 in a message posted on an extremist Internet Web site, prompted the Naval Criminal Investigative Service to elevate the risk for all U.S. military and commercial ships sailing through an area stretching from Somalia to the Persian Gulf.The message contained detailed instructions, particularly on what type of intelligence should be collected from each U.S. warship. The unnamed author says al-Qaida will use the information to target American vessels, including aircraft carriers, submarines, and all naval equipment deployed in the region. He urges potential informants not to underestimate the importance of any piece of information they can gather.
How might al-Qaeda threaten US Navy ships in these waters? They might take a play from Hezbollah's book, following their successful attack on the Israeli corvette INS Hanit with either an Iranian-made vehicle-mounted C-802 missile or a Kowsar missile during the Lebanon War of 2006. David Axe at War is Boring reports on the measures being taken by the Israeli Navy to guard against low-end threats from insurgent and hybrid organizations, increasingly armed with sophisticated high-tech weaponry--steps that don't seem to have been taken by the US Navy.
The use of small, fast boats to evade detection and overwhelm the defenses of larger ships is not without precedent. In 2002, retired Lt. Gen. Paul Van Riper inflicted massive "casualties" on the US Navy during the opening stages of a war game known as Millennium Challenge 2002 by overwhelming US Navy ships with anti-ship missiles launched from land, from fishing vessels, and from light civil aircraft. Certainly, anti-ship missiles might be found in the arsenals of state actors such as China, North Korea and Iran, but also in the hands of non-state actors such as Hezbollah, which acquired a number of anti-ship missiles from Iran prior to the Lebanon War of 2006.
Hopefully, the US Navy can learn a few lessons from the Israelis. I would hate to see a state or non-state actor--or more embarrassingly, Somalian pirates--exploit a few vulnerabilities in the Navy's surface fleet in the Gulf of Aden or the Persian Gulf.