The UK is planning to upgrade the missiles that it's used to destroy Houthi drones in the Red Sea.
Sea Viper, an advanced air-defense system, is getting updated missiles and a software upgrade.
The UK's defense ministry said the improvements will enable them to defeat ballistic missiles.
The UK plans to upgrade the missiles that one of the Royal Navy's warships has used to shoot down Houthi drones. These engagements have been part of ongoing fight in which Western militaries are trying to stop the Iran-backed rebels from attacking vessels off the coast of Yemen.
The HMS Diamond has used its Sea Viper air-defense system to down multiple one-way attack drones while operating in the Red Sea in recent weeks. On Sunday, the UK said it will spend $515 million on contracts to boost the system in a bid to better protect sailors and ships from aerial threats.
Among the planned improvements to the system will be updated missiles fitted with new warheads and software upgrades, which will allow Sea Viper to defeat anti-ship ballistic missiles, the UK Ministry of Defense said in a statement.
"The contracts will make Sea Viper the most capable naval air defense system ever developed for the Royal Navy, investing in vital capability used in recent weeks to protect one of the world's busiest shipping lanes from multiple drone attacks," the ministry wrote.
Beyond their explosive drones, the Houthis have relied on anti-ship ballistic missiles to attack commercial vessels sailing through key waterways off the coast of Yemen. British officials said the Sea Viper upgrades, which will specifically take aim at countering these weapons, will help the UK continue to defend against evolving threats.
"As the situation in the Middle East worsens, it is vital that we adapt to keep the UK, our allies and partners safe," said UK Defense Secretary Grant Shapps in the Sunday statement. "Sea Viper has been at the forefront of this, being the Navy's weapon of choice in the first shooting down of an aerial threat in more than 30 years."
Shapps confirmed in mid-December that the HMS Diamond fired a Sea Viper missile to destroy a drone targeting commercial shipping in the Red Sea. Just a few weeks later, in early January, the same warship used Sea Viper missiles and guns to destroy multiple attack drones in the largest Houthi attack since the group began their provocations in November.
The Royal Navy considers the Diamond, a Type 45 guided-missile destroyer, to be "one of the most advanced warships in the world" and "a jewel in the naval crown." It's one of several Western warships — one with the French Navy and several others belonging to the US Navy — that have been engaging and downing Houthi drones and missiles over the past few months.
Sea Viper has been in service for more than a decade, and includes two radars, a command system, and the Aster missile. It can track threats at ranges of up to 250 miles and destroy them when they're about 70 miles away.
"A cutting-edge weapon system, Sea Viper continues to provide the Royal Navy with impressive lethality," the UK's Rear Adm. Anthony Rimington said, adding that the upgrade "further enhances this capability against the more complex and evolving threats and strengthens our cooperation and interoperability with key partners."
The upgrades are expected to reach full operational capacity by 2032, the UK Ministry of Defense said.
The UK's announcement comes as the Houthis continue to attack commercial ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. British and American forces conducted a series of strikes across Yemen earlier this month in an attempt to degrade the rebels' capabilities, and the US military has struck them several more times since.
Most recently, American forces on Sunday struck a Houthi anti-ship missile that was aimed at the water and ready to launch. US Central Command said that it determined the missile posed a threat to ships in the region and destroyed it in an act of "self-defense."
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