In a report by the BBC, Captain Earl Ehrhart, a US Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier II pilot, has claimed the downing of seven Houthi explosive drones during operations in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, conducted from the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan. If these claims are verified, Ehrhart would be recognized as the first American “ace” since the Vietnam War, a title prestigiously reserved for pilots who achieve five or more aerial combat victories.
The operations highlighted the adaptability and innovation involved with responding to the Houthi threats. “We took a Harrier jet and modified it for air defense. We loaded it up with missiles and that way were able to respond to their drone attacks,” Ehrhart explained to BBC. This tactical adjustment was crucial in effectively countering the drone assaults by the Houthi rebels, whom Ehrhart described as “a robust and capable force.” The success of these missions underscores the technological and strategic advancements made by US military forces to maintain superiority in increasingly complex combat environments.
The United States Air Force has criteria for awarding aerial victory credits that encompass the destruction of enemy aerial vehicles, whether manned or unmanned, armed or not. This policy indicates a recognition of the evolving nature of aerial threats and combat, extending the possibility of achieving “ace” status to engagements with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Historically, there is precedent for awarding ace status in unconventional contexts. During World War II, Lt. Frank Luke, known as the “Arizona Balloon Buster,” was credited with destroying 14 German observation balloons before his death in combat.