Ukrainian Pilot Speaks Out On Sinking Russia’s $70 Million Warship; Says Elon Musk’s Starlink Helped Achieve The Hit

It took Ukraine just six sea drones, powered by jet skis and controlled via Starlink connection, to sink a Russian missile corvette, a Ukrainian pilot of a special intelligence unit has claimed.

On February 1, the Armed Forces of Ukraine struck the Russian Black Sea Fleet with the help of a fleet of naval drones on Lake Donuzlav in Crimea. One of the naval drones managed to go past the Russian Missile Corvette Ivanovet’s defense systems and struck at its portside, resulting in a huge explosion.

The footage released by Ukrainians rules out any chance that the Russian warship survived the impact. At the end of the recording, one can see the rear part of the vessel as it sank along with the 44 Russian sailors on board.

Since the beginning of the war, there are claims the Ukrainian military has disabled about 33 percent of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, according to the Armed Forces of Ukraine’s Strategic Communications.

“About 33 percent of the warships of the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation were disabled by Ukraine during the large-scale invasion,” the statement claims.

More details are shared by one of the drone pilots involved in the attack. The pilot is identified by call sign 13 and is a member of a special unit of Ukraine’s defense intelligence agency (GUR). The unit has been responsible for a slew of attacks on Crimea and in Russia itself using drones.

In one of the rare interviews, the drone pilot told CNN that 10 “MAGURA” (Maritime Autonomous Guard Unmanned Robotic Apparatuses) drones were used in the attack, and six of them managed to hit and sink the US $70 million warship. The sinking has added to the long list of losses of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.

The “MAGURA” drones are only a few meters long and powered by jet skis, the pilot said, but the 18-foot-long maritime drones boast a large range of around 800 kilometers (nearly 500 miles). The long sea legs of the drones give his unit freedom to launch their drones from greater distances against Crimean targets.

Russia is yet to officially confirm the attack.

Ukraine’s head of military intelligence also confirmed earlier that the ship was attacked by six domestically developed MAGURA V5 naval drones. The same drones were reportedly used to take out two Russian landing crafts in Western Crimea in November 2023.

According to the pilot, the drones can be pre-programmed for their journey and are monitored by the pilot, who can wrest control of the final approach.

“The main thing is to feel the drone,” he said, adding: “If you squeeze it a little, you can lose control of the drone. I would say it’s like a jeweler’s work.” The low profile of the drones makes them difficult to spot on the water’s surface. A total of 10 Magura V-5s were deployed, and six managed to hit the ship.

Russia’s Black Sea Fleet operations have been “greatly complicated, if not paralyzed,” Ukraine’s Navy has said. Speaking to national TV, Captain 3rd rank Dmytro Pletenchuk said 25 vessels out of around 80 deployed by Moscow at the start of the invasion have been destroyed, and 15 are currently under repair.

When Shipless Ukrainian Navy Destroyed Russian Submarine

In September 2023, Ukraine destroyed a Russian kilo-class submarine in a dry dock. It was the first combat loss of a Russian submarine to enemy fire since World War II and the first disabled by enemy fire from any nation in 41 years.

The ‘damaged’ vessels were eventually confirmed to be the Ropucha-class tank landing ship Minsk, while the submarine was B-237 Rostov-on-Don, one of Russia’s newest Project 636.3 improved Kilo diesel-electric attack submarines commissioned on December 30, 2014.

The 370-foot Ropucha-class landing ship was one of eleven that sailed with the Russian Black Sea Fleet on the first day of the Russian-Ukraine war and survived a direct hit from the Ukrainian Navy’s 16-foot drone boats.

While the Ukraine-Russia war is mainly fought on land and in the air, the Black Sea Fleet has borne a big brunt of the conflict. Earlier, a drone, under the cover of dark, had hit its landing ship Olenegorsky Gornyak in Novorossiysk, a port in southern Russia just 70 miles east of Russian-occupied Crimea.

Screengrab: UUV under attack by Russian drone

Before this attack, the total number of the Black Sea Fleet warships that Ukraine had successfully put out of action was four. The losses include the landing ship Saratov, blasted by a ballistic missile in March 2022; the cruiser Moskva, holed by an anti-ship missile the following month; the rescue ship Vasily Bekh, another victim of an anti-ship missile; and then Olenegorsky Gornyak.

Besides this, the Ukrainians have also sunk or badly damaged several Russian patrol boats and landing craft.

The Ukrainian Navy has only one warship and has been called a shipless Navy. The sole warship in its fleet is an aging landing ship. What the Ukrainian Navy has been lacking in terms of large hulls and ships, it has been making up for in terms of stealth and tactics.

Armed with home-grown Neptune anti-ship missiles, Western-made Harpoon anti-ship missiles, and its kamikaze drone boats, Ukraine has managed to severely constrain the movement of the Russian Black Sea Fleet.

The Russian warships seldom leave port, and even if they do, it is only for a short while to launch missile attacks on Ukrainian cities.

  • Ritu Sharma has been a journalist for over a decade, writing on defense, foreign affairs, and nuclear technology.
  • She can be reached at ritu.sharma (at)
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