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A U.S. Navy Cruiser Just Intercepted an Illicit Floating Arsenal of Weapons

  • The USS Monterey discovered thousands of weapons after stopping a dhow in the North Arabian Sea.
  • The dhow was carrying at least 2,000 assault rifles, machine guns, anti-tank rocket launchers, and anti-tank missiles.
  • The Monterey was enforcing a United Nations-led arms embargo on Yemen when it discovered the weapons.

    A routine patrol by U.S. naval and Coast Guard forces uncovered a major haul of what the U.S. Navy described as “illicit” weapons last week.

    You love badass ships. So do we. Let’s nerd out over them together.

    On May 6, Coast Guard personnel operating from the guided missile cruiser USS Monterey stopped a “stateless” dhow, or local commercial ship that isn’t registered under the flag of any particular country, during an inspection in the North Arabian sea. The dhow was carrying hundreds of assault rifles, sniper rifles, machine guns, anti-tank weapons, and even anti-tank missiles, which were likely bound for Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

    An SH-60 Seahawk helicopter assigned to the guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey flies above a stateless dhow interdicted with a shipment of illicit weapons in international waters of the North Arabian Sea on May 6.

    U.S. Navy

    Yemen is currently embroiled in a civil war and under an arms embargo that the Yemeni government requested and the United Nations authorized with UN Security Resolution 2216. The goal is to keep weapons from entering Yemen and out of the hands of Houthi rebels. U.S. forces conduct inspections of suspect vessels bound for Yemen in support of the arms embargo, and have made several high intercepts of weapons and ammunition.

    Coast Guard personnel typically ride along Navy warships for boarding inspections, as Coast Guardsmen are considered law enforcement personnel and trained to conduct boardings and inspections. In this case, the Guardsmen boarded under the auspices of a flag verification boarding, and discovered the dhow was indeed stateless.

    dhow

    A pair of dhows moored at Sur off the coast of Oman, 2014. Dhows can vary greatly by size and displacement.

    SOPA ImagesGetty Images

    Dhows are small sailing vessels that are extremely common in the Arabian gulf region. The wooden, unarmed ships are often used for fishing or transporting items—and sometimes smuggled goods. The simple vessels look like throwbacks to a different age, and are often built on beaches instead of shipyards.

    130603 n ql471 450 arabian gulf june 3, 2013 the guided missile cruiser uss monterey cg 61 performs high speed maneuvers in the arabian gulf monterey is deployed supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the us 5th fleet area of responsibility us navy photo by mass communication specialist 3rd class billy horeleased

    USS Monterey performing high-speed maneuvers in the Persian Gulf, 2013.

    MC3 Billy Ho

    The USS Monterey is one of the largest surface combatants in the Navy. The 9,800-ton cruiser carries two 5-inch guns, a pair of SH-60 Seahawk helicopters, and 122 vertical launch missile silos. The Monterey can perform practically any mission in the Navy, including protecting aircraft carriers from aircraft and missile swarms, ballistic missile defense, and conducting inspections of suspicious-looking dhows.

    Last week’s inspection revealed, however, that the dhow concealed quite an arsenal of its own, albeit useful in a much different fight. As the top photo makes clear, the Navy/Coast Guard team discovered several tons of weapons. Let’s break down what they found.

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    The main haul consists of approximately 2,000 Type 56 assault rifles, the wood-stocked guns on both sides of the display. The rifles, which are China’s version of the AK-47, appear to be organized in rows of 30—and there are about 40 rows of them. There are also easily another 800 rifles in the center rear of the display, for a rough total of about 2,000. The ribbed cylinders in the center of the shot are likely waterproofed packages of ammunition.

    iran dragunov svd

    Iranian copes of the Soviet-era Dragunov assault rifle, apparently discovered with rifle scopes.

    U.S. Navy

    The wood-handled weapons to the right of center are Iranian copies of the Cold War-era Dragunov SVD sniper rifle. The Dragonov is a semi-automatic sniper rifle, and there are 100 of them on Monterey’s flight deck. There are also 194 copies of the Soviet RPG-7 anti-tank rocket launcher, identified by their olive green launch tubes, as well as what appears to be 200 copies of the Russian PK medium machine gun.

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    The Iranian AM-50 Sayyad anti-material rifle is one of the most dangerous weapons the Monterey confiscated from the dhow. The Sayyad is a single-shot, bolt-action, .50-caliber rifle with a range of up to 1,500 meters. The rifle is actually a copy of the Steyr HS sniper rifle, acquired by Iran for border patrol purposes and then cloned for domestic—and international—use.

    210508 n no146 1002 north arabian sea may 8, 2021 thousands of illicit weapons interdicted by guided missile cruiser uss monterey cg 61 from a stateless dhow in international waters of the north arabian sea on may 6 7 maritime security operations, as conducted by the us fifth fleet, entail routine patrols to determine pattern of life in the maritime as well as to enhance mariner to mariner relations these operations reassure allies and partners and preserve freedom of navigation and free flow of commerce us navy photo

    A Dehlavieh anti-tank missile on the left and AT-4 anti-tank missile on the right.

    NAVCENT Public Affairs

    But the Dehlavieh anti-tank missile, the larger of the olive green launch tubes in the foreground, is by far the most lethal weapon on the Monterey’s flight deck. The Dehlavieh is a copy of the Russian Kornet-E anti-tank missile. The original Kornet-E has a range of up to 3.41 miles and can penetrate up to 47 inches of steel armor plate. It can also carry a thermobaric warhead, which disperses a flammable aerosol mist that then detonates, creating a lethal blast pressure wave.

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    The smaller missile tube is a Russian 9M111M (NATO: AT-4 “Spigot”) anti-tank missile. The 9M111M is an older, shorter-range anti-tank missile and also appears in the U.S. Naval Institute News video above with “9M111M” clearly visible.

    The USS Monterey’s haul of illicit weapons is about enough to arm a standard infantry brigade of 2,500 troops—or an equivalent number of Houthi guerrillas.

    We did notice one weapon that’s curiously missing from the haul: man portable air defense systems (MANPADS). These shoulder-fired weapons can easily bring down unaware, low-flying fighters or helicopters, as well as commercial aircraft. Their absence from this shipment implies Iran might be keeping a tight hold on weapons that could be used to target civilian aircraft, an act that could cause considerable blowback for Tehran.


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