The Houthis’ air defense force shot down a Chinese-made Wing Loong unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) over the northern Yemeni province of Saada on April 19.
Wing Loong, which is produced by Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group, has a maximum range of 4,000km and an endurance of up to 20 hours. Photos of the UCAV’s wreckage show that it was armed with two AKD-10 air-to-surface laser-guided missiles.
The Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) and the United Arab Emirates Air Force (UAEAF) both operate this type of UCAVs. The UAE was among the very first customers of the UCAV in 2011. Saudi Arabia followed the UAE’s footsteps and bought several Wing Loongs two years later.
Several photos released by the Houthis media wing show that the UCAV was shot down with a surface-to-air missile. The Yemeni group is known for possessing several types of man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS). However, large drones like the Wing Loong are usually shot down with modified air-to-air missiles.
Last year, the Houthis were able to convert Soviet air-to-air infrared guided missiles, like R-27T and R-73E, into surface-to-air missiles.
These modified missiles are believed to have been successfully used against large drones on several occasions. The most recent incident took place last month, when a US-made MQ-1 was shoot down over the Yemeni capital of Sanaa.
The downing of the Saudi-led coalition Wing Loong UCAV proves that the Houthis’ air defense force has improved its capabilities. This will pose a new challenge to the coalition, that’s highly dependent on air superiority.