An image that has gone viral recently indicates that the Russian military has started using floating ‘boom barriers’ to add an extra layer of defense to its strategic Crimean Bridge (or Kerch Bridge) that connects mainland Russia with Crimea.
A Russian news outlet called Mash, notorious for publishing exclusive content obtained from Moscow security agencies, was the first to report that Moscow has set up floating, spiked boom defenses to thwart any potential Ukrainian drone strikes in Crimea.
Booms are long barriers placed on the sea to prevent surface drones from approaching their objectives. Since the development was first reported on July 31, experts noted the booms are probably designed to make it more challenging for Ukrainian unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) to strike important Russian infrastructure, such as bridges.
Boom defenses are physical barriers much like anti-submarine and anti-torpedo nets, and have been around for several decades. They are believed to be helpful against smaller targets like USVs that have been extensively deployed by Ukraine and are relatively harder to detect.
The length of the bridge is exceedingly difficult for Russia to defend against Ukrainian surface drones, which are impossible to detect until just before they reach their objective. Due to their diminutive size and proximity to the sea, Ukrainian attack USVs are extremely challenging for Russian forces to detect using radar and sonar.
Seems #Russia is now putting spikes on top of presumably reinforced boom barriers along the whole length of the bridge.
— Tim White (@TWMCLtd) July 31, 2023
The development comes days after the strategic Crimean Bridge suffered a major attack on July 17, attributed to the “Ukrainian saboteurs.”
In the aftermath of the strike that led to the closing of traffic on the bridge, Russia announced, “The attack on the Crimean Bridge was carried out at 3.05 am (Moscow time) by two Ukrainian unmanned surface vehicles.”
Instead of directly owning responsibility for the attack, Ukrainian intelligence agency SBU posted a modified version of a folk song with lyrics “a bridge going to sleep” on its Telegram channel, indicating that the Ukrainian military meticulously planned and carried out the attack.
#BREAKING– Ukraine ATTACKS Crimean Bridge with surface drones (USVs) – Russian media
The Crimean bridge attack was carried out using unmanned drones on the water's surface, Russia's anti-terrorist committee has said.#Crimea #CrimeaBridge #KerchBridge #bridge #Ukraine #Russia pic.twitter.com/oeuYPZ9nV3
— EurAsian Times (@THEEURASIATIMES) July 17, 2023
Although Ukraine has made several guarantees that it would not attack Russian territory, there is a mismatch in perception about the territory on either side. While Russia claims that Crimea, which it annexed in 2014, belongs to it, Ukraine rejects these claims and has been aiming its missiles and drones at it.
Since Russia and Ukraine’s war began in February 2022, the Crimean Bridge has been the target of two significant attacks. A considerable explosion caused by a truck bomb destroyed a portion of the 19 kilometers long bridge in October last year.
At the time, Russian authorities alleged it was a ‘terror act’ undertaken by Kyiv.
“This timing also implies that the attack on the energy infrastructure and #Kyiv may not have been a direct consequence of the partial destruction of the #Kerch Bridge in #Crimea on 8 October 2022.”@EliotHiggins #Ukraine 13/ pic.twitter.com/Cz8tqBossQ
— Diplomacy140 (@Diplomacy140) October 25, 2022
While the threat to the bridge was perceived to be from air-launched missiles and drones earlier, the July attack has exposed the vulnerability of the bridge to the Ukrainian USVs.
Kyiv is known to have deployed USVs to attack Crimea earlier, including the Black Sea fleet headquarter in Sevastopol port.
Moreover, Ukrainian President Zelensky warned that the war was entering another crucial stage where the Ukrainian forces would enter Russian territory and attack its power centers.
In a nighttime address on July 29, Zelensky said, “Gradually, the war is returning to the territory of Russia — to its symbolic centers and military bases. This is an inevitable, natural, and fair process.”
This is where the strategic Crimean Bridge comes into the picture.
On its part, there is no way Russia could afford Ukrainian troops running over its strategic assets that could threaten its control over Crimea and the Sevastopol port. While they have deployed defenses now, they had deployed decoys earlier to prevent an attack.
Russia Defends The Crimean Bridge
The bridge, completed in 2018, is a strategic logistic route that houses roads and rail links. Stretching over sixteen kilometers, Kerch is the longest bridge in Europe and was constructed after Russia annexed Crimea. Putin himself drove a truck to inaugurate the $3.7 billion bridge.
It was in July 2022 that Russian forces were first reported to have moved countermeasures to the Crimean Bridge used for the movement of men and materiel from the Russian mainland to Crimea.
At the time, it was noted that the Russian troops had deployed decoy barges covered in radar reflectors and smokescreen capabilities to defend the critical bridge connecting Russia with Crimea to shield the bridge from a stand-off missile attack.
Independent OSINT analysts said last year that two target barges from the Novorossiysk Naval Base were carried to the location and moored on the bridge’s east side. The vessels had several radar reflectors, metallic devices fastened to a barge to boost its radar visibility.
Clusters of Russian Project 436 Target Barges around the Kerch Strait which is the connection of the Russian Mainland to the Crimean Peninsula via the Crimean Bridge; these Barges consist of 9 Radar Reflectors used in an attempt to confuse Radar-Guided Weapons and Aircraft. https://t.co/dM409DVobO pic.twitter.com/lIHyYwHjAj
— OSINTdefender (@sentdefender) March 15, 2023
Besides the target barges, more radar reflectors were fastened to the shallows around the bridge as defensive tactics. Additionally, Russia also used smokescreens, a well-known tactic employed by the country’s military over the years and for which some of their personnel have received specialized training.
It also appeared that as Russia strengthened its air defense capabilities in Crimea, which are already well known to be fairly thick, it focused on securing the Crimean Bridge. Other defenses, like EW systems, were anticipated to confuse and divert the adversary. All of these measures have since been used.
Despite deploying all these countermeasures, the Ukrainians stunned Russian troops with their October attack. Since then, Russia has taken unprecedented security precautions to protect the building.
Tourists visiting Crimea report standing in line for hours while security personnel searched every vehicle for bombs as they crossed the bridge. Russia has also strengthened its anti-air defenses.
However, the Ukrainians were able to get through them. With physical barriers like boom defenses now on duty, Russians could be seen bolstering their defenses further to leave no loopholes going forward.
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