A fully intact Ukrainian kamikaze drone boat washed up on the Crimean shore on November 22 after reportedly veering off control while attacking Russian warships in the Black Sea near Sevastopol.
Now in Russian hands, Moscow’s engineers can be expected to study the technology behind Ukraine’s naval drones, using the knowledge to further secure its embattled Black Sea Fleet (BSF).
Ukraine has been using unmanned boats since October 2022 in the Black Sea, with little success. But the consistency and the tactics of the attacks improved over time, where Ukraine also combined it with other manned boat strikes and fighter-bombers that launched Storm Shadow air-launched cruise missiles.
The BSF’s headquarters was destroyed in one such attack on September 22, which was a marked departure from Ukraine, merely relying on the drone boats by increasing the frequency or unpredictability.
Ukraine also possesses a diverse inventory of such drones, having introduced various designs over the last year. While each drone boat attack has been repelled with only minor damage to warships and major damages arising out of missile strikes, Kyiv’s strategy to keep probing Russia’s navy in the Black Sea has become a major irritant.
The Last Two Strikes Did Not Hurt the BSF But Stunned Russia
A September 12 strike did hit a dry dock in Sevastopol, which housed two vessels – an amphibious vessel and a Kilo-class submarine, both of which were damaged beyond repair. The following September 22 attack on the BSF HQ killed 34 Russian officers and injured 105, according to the Ukrainian military.
However, a subsequent EurAsian Times analysis showed how the BSF is still intact and functional, periodically carrying out sea-launched Onyx and Kalibr cruise missile strikes on Ukrainian military and civilian-military targets.
However, the persistent asymmetric naval warfare is aimed at creating Crimea and the Black Seas as a different front, forcing Russia to press in resources and possibly affect its calculations on the land battle in the Ukrainian territories it occupies.
Killer Drone Boat Washes Ashore
Leading handles on X (formerly Twitter) have identified the drone boat as the Maritime Autonomous Guard Unmanned Robotic Apparatus (MAGURA) V5. The boat is a Ukrainian-made “next-generation, multi-purpose unmanned surface vessel (USV), developed by SpetsTechnoExport (STE).”
The Ukrainian unmanned kamikaze boat Magura V5 , with which the enemy tried to attack ships on the western coast of Crimea tonight, fell intact into the hands of Russian fighters.#Source @Slavyangrad pic.twitter.com/ksPVHxrBms
— Zlatti71 (@djuric_zlatko) November 22, 2023
It has a thin, elongated, V-shaped hydrodynamic hull with an integrated electro-optical device. The USV is fitted with 320-kilogram explosives and is designed with a jet ski prop system, evident from the absence of propellers in the rear end. A model of MAGURA V5 was displayed at the DSEI 2023 held from 12 to September 15 in the UK.
Of the three distinctive flat dishes on the top, one could be Starlink terminals since Ukraine has installed these on its previous kamikaze boat designs. This, however, cannot be said with certainty since they could also be receivers for satellite navigation from other sources.
This is because SpaceX CEO Elon Musk in August was accused of cutting off Starlink services to Ukrainian drones, opposing its usage for military attacks.
One Among Four Killer Sea Drones
Meanwhile, the captured USV Magura is part of four kamikaze drone boats that Ukraine operates as a part of a special unit unmanned naval warfare unit, as per reports.
Magura, which stands for Maritime Autonomous Guard Unmanned Robotic Apparatus, has a 320-kilogram payload, a top speed of 42 knots, and an advertised range of 450 nautical miles (833 kilometers).
The USV does not seem to have a rotating electro-optical turret, as seen in some of the other pictures released by Ukraine and captured in footage by the Russian navy while destroying them.
Another kamikaze USV, the Sea Baby – whose existence was revealed in August with Ukrainian officials claiming October was involved in at least two strikes against Russia – has a larger body with a radome and an electro-optical system.
The first was in July, when the drone damaged the Kerch Bridge, a key route for Russia’s supply line, killing two civilians.
Around mid-September, Ukrainian sources said that the sea drone attacked a small Russian missile ship that was part of the Black Sea Fleet. Russia’s defense ministry claimed it repelled the attack and destroyed the drone. It is unclear how the Magura lost control and was disabled. The Russian Ministry of Defense (RuMoD) had not mentioned any action against the USV in their updates over the last three days.
But it would not be far-fetched to rule out the role of Russian electronic warfare (EW). The country’s lead in the technology in general, the devastating impact on Ukrainian drones in particular, and attempts to jam the Starlink satellite constellation itself red-flagged by Elon Musk himself can be taken into account to infer that EW systems in Crimea or aboard BSF warships had a role to play.
The technology tycoon has long tried striking a balance between his commercial interests, geopolitical pressures, and crossing paths with a technologically advanced military power like Russia. Proposing a peace plan with Moscow was an effort towards this end.