- Author, Joshua Cheetham
- Role, BBC check
Russia said it repelled a Ukrainian drone attack on one of its naval bases in the Black Sea.
This is a new case of Russian authorities accusing Ukraine of launching maritime drones at their ships.
Although drones were used with great success during the conflict, this new form of maritime technology it is gaining momentum and could change the future of naval warfare.
What are Marine Drones?
Marine drones are small unmanned craft. Unlike aerial drones, they operate on or below the surface of the water.
Many terms are used to describe them, including maritime drones, naval drones, and unmanned surface vehicles (USVs).
They come in different shapes and sizes and are used for various tasks, including environmental monitoring.
These drones can also be used for military purposes such as clearing mines, conducting surveillance or blowing up close targets such as enemy ships.
Several maritime drones have been photographed since the start of the war, including one that reportedly washed ashore in Russian-occupied Crimea.
In addition to drones operating on the surface of the water, Ukraine recently introduced a prototype of an unmanned underwater drone called “Toloka TLK-150”.
How do marine drones work and how much do they cost?
Common features of maritime drones include built-in explosives and cameras that transmit images to the person controlling it.
Long-range targets are often pre-programmed into drones when they are launched.
They are then remotely controlled by a human as they approach the target, explains Sidharth Kaushal of defense think tank Rusi.
Some Ukrainian maritime drones have been developed through crowdfunding campaigns.
They are often made with components available on the market and they tend to be used for commercial rather than military purposes, adds Kaushal.
Russian media and bloggers claim that Russia also used them in an attack on a bridge in the port city of Odessa.
However, the BBC has found no evidence to support this claim.
It is not publicly known how many maritime drones each side has. It’s also unclear how much they cost, but the Ukrainian government-issued drone is worth $250,000.
This figure will be cheaper than many types of long-range missiles.
marine drones can also be quickly deployed and without the need for a fully trained crew.
“Even if you intercept a lot of low-cost objects, all you need to do is break through and damage a much more expensive asset, and the model will pay for itself,” Kaushal says.
When were naval drones used against Russia?
A BBC investigation suggests Ukraine carried out at least 11 maritime drone strikes against warships, the Russian naval base at Sevastopol and the port of Novorossiysk.
This is based on statements by Russian and Ukrainian authorities and local media reports.
Ukrainian defense sources told CNN that maritime drones were also used. during the storming of the Kerch bridge in July.
Some of the attacks took place far from the coast of Ukraine.
Footage surfaced in May showing drones approaching a Russian reconnaissance ship called the Ivan Khurs, but it’s not clear if the ship was damaged.
Russia claims the incident took place 140km north of Turkey’s Bosphorus, about 193km off the coast of Ukraine. This suggests that these drones can potentially travel long distances.
What impact do maritime drones have on warfare?
Ukraine’s deployment of maritime drones at a relatively low cost marks a new era in naval warfare.
According to some analysts, this tactic poses a growing risk for Russia.
Compared to warships, maritime drones are harder to spot on radar because they fly low over the water and make much less noise.
Although Ukraine does not have a significant naval force, its maritime drones prevented Russia from taking full control of the Black Sea, says Katarzyna Zisk, professor at the Norwegian Institute for Defense Studies.
The attack on the Russian naval base in Sevastopol in October 2022 was the first ever attack using both aerial and maritime drones.
At least three Russian ships were damaged in the attack, according to GeoConfirmed, an organization that analyzes satellite imagery and other open-source images.
Since then, Russia has significantly strengthened the defense around the baseaccording to recent satellite imagery obtained by BBC Verify.
Marine drones also have some disadvantages.
Airborne sensors can have a narrow field of view, making it difficult to track moving targets without precise position data, or detect cloaked ships.
Those with cameras on board also need to be in constant communication with their controller so they can be pointed at a target, so any problem with the video feed will jeopardize their mission.
“It’s not yet a revolution.”says Professor Zisk. “We are still in the experimental stage.”
However, he adds, Ukraine’s strategy has attracted the attention of the international community and is “assisting other navies in the development of these types of systems and their operational practices.”
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