Ukraine seems to have thrown up a new threat to the Russian Navy after its killer sea drones harassed Moscow’s fleet thrice since last year. Called ‘Toloka,’ images on social media showed what is being called a ‘loitering torpedo’ displayed on a stand.
A screen behind it showed other similar models, possibly members of a family of systems. Pictures of the odd-looking torpedo appeared on several Ukrainian and Russian Telegram groups.
A logo beside the weapon’s label mentioned ‘Brave1,’ a new defense manufacturing and technology initiative launched by the Ukrainian government, under whose aegis the torpedo concept must have been developed.
Toloka’s Unique Design
The torpedo has an unusual design. It has a pointed end, delta-shaped horizontal stabilizers with thrusters/propellers mounted at the end of each stabilizer, and a tall mast.
The mast has a module on top that appears to have an optical system, which can be safely presumed to be a periscope meant to jut out of the water for surveillance. This means the unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) is a semi-submersible.
Subsequent close-up pictures of the screen in the background that showed the two other torpedoes in the family also emerged.
Toloka, or TLK 150, is the smallest of the lot, with the bigger TLK 1000 and the TLK 400 being the larger and heavier torpedoes. These pictures also revealed that the Toloka 150’s pointed end facing the camera is actually its rear.
Posts on various Ukrainian Telegram groups described them as “underwater remote-controlled exploding submersibles” and that all are powered by hybrid-electrical systems.
Possible Capabilities & Tactics
TLK 1000 has a reported combat charge of up to 5,000 kilograms and a range of 2,000 kilometers; the TLK 400 has a charge of 500 kilograms and a range of 1200 kilometers; while the TLK 150 has a warhead of up to 50 kilograms and a range of 100 kilometers. These claims, however, could not be verified.
Some Ukrainian bloggers have inferred that the TLK 1000 must have active and passive sonar guidance and that the vehicles should be able to stay in “standby mode for up to 3 months.”
These are serious covert attack capabilities if the conclusions reached by observers are true. For one, keeping such submersibles hidden underwater to be used in an attack as an adversary closes in can spring a nasty surprise.
Despite being successfully repelled, the October 2022, March 23, and April 24 strikes at Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol took the Russians by surprise. EurAsian Times recently reported how Russian naval experts are worried about the kamikaze unmanned surface vessels (USV) posing a permanent threat to the Russian navy.
Moreover, it cannot be ruled out that Ukrainian planners will try and combine the USV and torpedo/submersible attacks to swarm and overwhelm the fleet’s watch officers and close-in weapons systems (CIWS) operators.
However, these are just informed inferences based on the pictures and a study of Ukrainian military tactics and defense technology patterns.
Questions remain on the mode of delivery for the submersibles to the target area – whether by small patrol or gunboats, airdropped by aircraft, helicopters, drones, or carried aboard one of the kamikaze USVs. The USVs will have to be significantly modified for the purpose if they are to carry these submersibles/torpedoes as payload.
Ukrainian Defense Industry Push
The BRAVE1 initiative is a recently launched defense technology cluster by the Ukrainian government. The platform aims to unite the military, industry, academia, and investors.
The statement from the Ukrainian government calls “UAVs, situational awareness systems, artificial intelligence, and satellite data” as its thrust areas.
This is in line with the type of systems Ukraine has primarily relied on in the war, with asymmetric platforms like drones rather than capital weapons like fighter jets and tanks.