In April last year, Ukraine achieved its first significant combat win against Russia when it struck the Russian cruiser ‘Moskva’ using its Neptune missile and sunk it in the Black Sea. More than a year later, Russia seems to be sinking its own ships with a defensive strategy in mind.
Earlier this month, the Main Intelligence Directorate of Ukraine’s Defense Ministry (GUR) said that Russia was sinking its own ferries in the Kerch Strait in the Black Sea to create a barrier that would, in turn, protect the Kerch Bridge from a possible Ukrainian uncrewed surface vessel (USV) attack.
At the time, the Ukrainian intel officials said Russian troops were getting ready to sink at least six ferries in the strait. The GUR reported that Russia had already sunk its first ship and was getting ready to sink its second without offering many details on how Moscow was making these ferries sink.
“The Russians intend to establish a boom fence between the flooded ferries. In this way, the enemy seeks to protect the Kerch bridge from defeat,” the GUR said.
Almost a week after the GUR made the claims, the reports have been authenticated with the help of satellite imagery published by Planet Labs. The low-resolution photo on August 29 shows seven half-submerged vessels arranged immediately south of the bridge.
— H I Sutton (@CovertShores) August 28, 2023
Naval and OSINT Analyst HI Sutton had noted earlier on August 29 that Russia was placing block ships, i.e., the sunken ferries, across the western approaches to the Kerch Strait. The satellite imagery officially released by Planet Labs has vindicated that observation.
When GUR reported on the development first, it also stated that Russia eventually planned to “install boom barriers between the flooded ferries” to form a resistance or a defensive chain. Militaries have used boom-barrier-like obstacles since World War 2.
Boom defenses are physical obstacles or nets that cross the mouth of a harbor or strait to guard against drones. They are similar to anti-torpedo nets in the way they envelop prospective targets in the sea. However, this is precisely why resorting to make-shift defenses has been called into question by analysts.
For instance, as part of a layered sea, land, and air defense plan, Russia has built boom obstacles across the mouth of Sevastopol harbor. Sevastopol is Russia’s central Black Sea Port in the Crimean Peninsula, frequently targeted by the Ukrainian military. Ukraine started attacking the area with USVs in October last year.
Military experts have since cast doubts on the utility of such barriers against powerful sea drone attacks. So, the prevailing opinion is that even if the defenses (in the recent case, sunken ferries) are becoming more sophisticated in response to increasingly sophisticated drone strikes, they are not impenetrable.
On its part, Russia is currently using all the options at its disposal to thwart enemy attacks on its vital Kerch Bridge. According to the Ukrainian spy agency, Kyiv’s forces attempted to attack the bridge to choke Russian supply lines.
“Periodic successful attacks by Ukraine’s Security and Defense Forces on this legitimate military goal led to serious damage to the bridge’s construction, particularly its road and railway canvases. Recent strikes on the Kerch Bridge once again worsened the situation for the grouping of enemy troops in southern Ukraine and caused a hysterical reaction of the military and political leadership of Moscow,” the GUR had previously stated.
Ukraine’s Sea Drones Want To Annihilate Russia’s Black Sea Infra
The satellite imagery confirmation of Russia sinking its vessels and using it as a defense against Ukrainian sea drone attacks comes at an opportune moment. In the wee hours of August 30, the governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozzhayev, said that the Russian Black Sea Fleet repelled a sea drone strike close to Sevastopol’s central bay, as reported by TASS News Agency.
He later noted that anti-submarine warfare units had finished their mission an hour later. There is currently no accurate data regarding the quantity and nature of destroyed targets. However, this has again exposed Ukraine’s unrelenting USV attacks against Russia’s Black Sea targets.
Earlier, a Ukrainian “Sea Baby” USV that was used to assault the bridge on July 17 was carrying “up to 850 kilograms of explosives” (or more than 1,800 pounds). This is more than any other known Ukrainian drone boat with a huge payload.
Here is Ukraine’s new kamikaze USV Sea Baby, which hit the Crimean Bridge and Russian ships near Novorossiysk.
SBU is developing these USVs without participation of private companies.
SBU is assisted by engineers and IT specialists, and the production of USVs is underground. pic.twitter.com/30KbX53KYS
— Clash Report (@clashreport) August 16, 2023
Earlier this month, Ukrainian sea drones attacked a key naval base in Novorossiysk in Russia. The attack reportedly left a Russian warship damaged. The vessel was later identified as an amphibious Russian landing ship whose visuals flooded the internet and embarrassed the Russians.
The warship’s loss was considered the worst after the Russian Navy lost its flagship cruiser Moskva after it was hit by Ukraine’s Neptune missiles last year.
The Russian Ropucha-class landing ship Olenegorskiy Gornyak was heavily damaged in the Ukrainian drone attack against the port of Novorossiysk a few hours ago.
Largest loss suffered by the Russian Navy since the sinking of the Moskva! pic.twitter.com/Tt5OqgkgaU
— Visegrád 24 (@visegrad24) August 4, 2023
A Ukrainian source told CNN that the ship was struck by a naval drone carrying around 1,000 pounds of TNT and had about 100 Russian personnel on board. “A big navy ship, [the] Olenogorsky Gornyak, was hit,” the source told CNN. “As the result of the attack, the Russian ship has received serious damage and cannot fulfill its duties.”
As noted by EurAsian Times in a detailed analysis, a full-on impact would have likely resulted in the ship’s sinking, considering that the drone was carrying 450 kilograms of explosives. Later, it was also revealed that three Ukrainian sea drones had also been destroyed near the Kerch Strait and the area leading to the Crimean Bridge.
It has been noted that Ukraine was assisted by NATO satellites with its sea drone attack against Russia. US Topaz constellation Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellites are known to make repeated passes over Crimea to photograph and pinpoint targets, which are then passed on to Ukrainian drone operators. During the past month, 29 satellite passes over Crimea were recorded.
Ukraine has not only intensified its sea drone attacks but has also been churning out new naval drone capabilities. For instance, Kyiv recently unveiled an underwater maritime drone that would expectedly be used to attack Russian warships. Until now, it has been using surface sea drones to attack Crimea.
⚡️According to the authors, the video shows the first footage of testing the 🇺🇦Ukrainian underwater drone "Marichka"
The drone is designed to attack warships, boats, submarines (?), coastal fortifications and bridge supports
Length – 6 m, width – 1 m
Range – 1000 km
The price… pic.twitter.com/23nihQxSI5
— 🇺🇦Ukrainian Front (@front_ukrainian) August 22, 2023
The new vessel, codenamed Marichka, would likely provide Ukraine’s attacks on Putin’s Black Sea fleet a new dimension and would probably be faced with the Russian sunken ferries that have been meticulously placed to resist such attacks. Military experts believe a swarm of these suicide underwater uncrewed vehicles would be hard to defend against.
Having said that, how far these sunken vessels will go in preventing Ukrainian attacks on the Black Sea infrastructure will be seen when Ukraine launches its next attack. It’s even feasible that, soon, Ukraine won’t even require drone boats to strike the bridge, or at least won’t have to rely on that means of attack primarily.
Interestingly, Ukraine has now modified Neptune anti-ship missiles with a reported range of 250 miles and a warhead weighing roughly 770 pounds for land attack. This would allow Ukraine to launch a decisive strike from far behind its defenses.