USV Attacks on Sevastopol and Novorossiysk

I certainly applaud the exploits of the Ukrainian Navy in taking the fight to the Russians using innovative means, here and here, but let us look at this from the prospective of the defender.

Naval Blogger Cdr Salamander offers some thoughts on the lessons of the recent attack on the Russian Navy Base in Sevastopol, but I think he may be selling the Russians short, under estimating the effort they put forth and suggesting that we would have done much better.

Quite properly he puts the attack in a historical context and calls for the US to be ready for similar attacks on US assets in US ports, but I have to take issue with his apparent belief that the Russian did not attempt to prepare for this type of attack.

This is another demonstration that the military culture of Russia is broken. The human element in the Sevastopol was manifested in the complete lack of preparation for the attack in spite of the warnings so clearly provided in September.

The Russians have a history of their ships being attacked in port that goes back to at least the Russo-Japanese war when the Japanese opened the war with a torpedo attack on the Russian fleet inport in Port Author. The unpleasant experience was repeated in WWI and WWII. As a result they have a relatively robust coastal and harbor defense organization, maybe better than ours.

Grachonok class anti sabotage ship P-351 in Astrakhan. Photo credit Mil.Ru

The Russians have built a number of “anti-sabotour” boats that are equipped with DP-64 anti-sabotage grenade launchers and DP-65 remotely-controlled rocket grenade launcher system, a type of weapon I don’t believe we have in the US inventory. Reportedly there are ten of these anti-sabotour boats stationed in the Black Sea.

The Russians do not appear to have taken the most obvious and immediate steps to address this cheap, low-tech threat. They did not have significant barriers in place at the entrance to their harbors or around their ships’ berths. They did not have Sailors on watch with weapons at the ready.

Actually the Russians did have a physical barrier, probably a net. The shape of the bow, the shallow draft, and waterjet propulsion of the Ukrainian USVs may have allow them to jump the net.

The video above, taken by one of the attacking craft, shows an armed helicopter shooting at the craft. It seems likely this helicopter was there and airborne when the attack occured because it was part of a defense plan.

The Ukrainians applied the “quantity has a quality of its own” principle. I believe I saw a report that nine USVs were used in the attack. If only three ships were damaged, then it appears the Russians successfully countered 67% of the threat. Additionally the response might have resulted in the Ukrainians damaging easier targets, closer at hand, rather than the ones they had originally intended. From the Ukraininan point of view, the damage may have been less than they had expected or hoped for, nevertheless we see it as a success. Unfortunately for the defenders, anything less than 100% success is a failure.

Achieving 100% success is not as easy as the referenced post seems to suggest. Crew served Ma Duce .50 cal. are not adequate weapons. If the Russians had had something like APKWS, in the right places, I doubt those ships would have been damaged.

An Observation on the Ukrainian Attack Craft: 

Since our first glimpse of these Ukrainian suicide drone boats, I have wondered about the “external ribs” as they are labeled above. Certainly they could be structural, but that seemed unlikely.

The most likely way to detect these craft at night is by their IR signature or seeing their wake. If the craft is pointed at you, those “ribs” might obstruct the view of the hot portions of the craft and its wake. They would also minimize light reflected from the inevitably wet top portion of the craft.

Image of the suspected Ukrainian USV circulating on Russian social media. Image via Naval News

6 thoughts on “USV Attacks on Sevastopol and Novorossiysk

  1. APKWS may even be overkill here. I think if we looked to consolidate around one of the 30mm options that ammo is large enough to offer the solution. The real question is, how do we stop a tanker or box ship that won’t hand over the keys.

  2. This will all change the first time a UUV is caught inside Pearl or near a major nuclear facility or SSBN base. It’s not at all unconceivable that a freighter could dump a bunch of these with a shaped charge warhead on the nose of a cloned REMUS or the like, and slowly/quietly drive it into the side of a DDG’s VLS, a RORO, ammo loaded amphib, cruise ship, etc.

  3. USNL Seapower reports this:
    “BAE Systems completed additional ground-to-air test firings to prove the effectiveness of 70mm rockets guided by APKWS guidance kits against Class-2 unmanned aerial systems (UAS) that weigh roughly 25-50 pounds and can travel at speeds exceeding 100 miles per hour, the company said in a Nov. 29 release.”

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