Ukraine’s Sailor-Less Navy: Destroying Russian Vessels with Drone Boats

Estimated read time 3 min read

Ukraine’s navy, decimated by the Russian invasion in February 2022, has made a stunning comeback by pioneering the use of drone boats, or uncrewed surface vehicles (USVs). These small, cheap, and quick-to-build naval drones have been instrumental in breaking the Russian blockade of Ukraine’s grain ships and winning the war in the Black Sea.

Pioneering Attack-Focused USVs

While many navies have small-scale USV programs for auxiliary roles, Ukraine’s USVs are different. They are designed for attack rather than support, similar to the DIY attack drones used on land. According to The Economist, H.I. Sutton, a naval analyst, has documented 11 types of these vessels, including the Magura V5 drone.

“Ukraine has pioneered small, cheap naval drones that are quick and easy to build and are used for attack rather than support,” Sutton notes.

Remote-Controlled Kamikaze Attacks

The Ukrainians operate their USVs by remote control, typically using a video feed transmitted via satellite. These craft are packed with explosives for kamikaze attacks, targeting Russian patrol and transport vessels, warships, and even damaging the Kerch Bridge linking Crimea to Russia.

The Economist estimates that naval drones have knocked out around ten Russian ships, including the Caesar Kunikov.

Adapting to Russian Countermeasures

As the Russians attempt to counter drone boats with cannon and machineguns, the Ukrainians have adapted. Recent videos show drones carrying out attacks with six 122mm Grad rockets instead of kamikaze warheads, allowing them to strike ships from beyond the range of Russian defensive fire.

When Russia sent helicopters to intercept drone boats, Ukraine modified their USVs with R-73 air-to-air missiles, potentially allowing them to lure and shoot down high-value helicopters.

The Future of Naval Warfare

Kyrylo Budanov, Ukraine’s head of defence intelligence, has claimed that Ukrainian drone boats have more surprises ready for the Russians. Private developers in other Countries, such as Turkey, are also working on submersible kamikaze USVs for stealthy attacks.

The success of small drones in Ukraine has prompted other armed forces to invest more in their own drone programs. However, Russia remains the only other country to deploy combat USVs so far.

DroneXL’s Take

The innovative use of drone boats by Ukraine’s navy has not only been a game-changer in the war against Russia but also a potential harbinger of the future of naval warfare. As we have seen with the rapid adoption of drones in various sectors, from photography to package delivery, the military applications of unmanned vehicles are vast and ever-evolving.

Ukraine’s success with attack-focused USVs, despite its limited resources, demonstrates the potential for smaller nations to level the playing field against larger, better-equipped adversaries. The ability to remotely control these vessels and adapt them to counter enemy defenses highlights the flexibility and ingenuity of Ukraine’s military.

As other countries take notice of Ukraine’s achievements and invest in their own drone programs, we can expect to see a proliferation of USVs in naval conflicts worldwide. The development of submersible kamikaze drones by Turkish companies suggests that this technology will continue to advance, with increasingly sophisticated and stealthy vessels capable of striking targets with precision.

The use of drone boats in Ukraine serves as a reminder that innovation and adaptability are crucial in modern warfare. As the world watches this conflict unfold, it is clear that the future of naval combat will be increasingly unmanned, with drone boats playing a central role in shaping the outcomes of battles at sea.

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