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

Portugal to Build a New Type of Ship–UxS Carrier

The “plataforma naval multifuncional” (multifunctional naval platform). Portuguese Navy image.

It is not often an entirely new category of ship emerges, but this seems to be the case. Perhaps it was inevitable, but it looks like the Portuguese may be the first to make it happen–a specialized, built for purpose, unmanned systems mothership.

Wish the specs in the lower right above were readable. 

First heard about this ship from Cdr. Salamander. He has some interesting ideas about how such a ship could be used. It is part research ship, part disaster response vessel, and, significantly for the Coast Guard, part Offshore Patrol Vessel. There is more about the ship from Naval News. It is not particularly large, with a crew of about 90 and accommodations for another 100. The cost is reportedly about $100M US, much less than the cost of the Offshore Patrol Cutter. Judging by the size of the helicopter (reportedly an NH-90) on the model, it appears to be 100 to 110 meters (328-360 feet) in length, about the length of the OPC, maybe less. It must be pretty broad if that is an MQ-1C Gray Eagle on the deck. The Span of the Gray Eagle is 56 ft (17 m), but it just does not look like it is in scale. Maybe they have a European sourced UAS in mind. Beam looks to be about 20 to 22 meters based on my presumptions about the length, that is 66 to 72 feet. Those proportions are similar to those of the 6,615 ton Canadian Harry DeWolf class Arctic Offfshore Patrol Ship, 103.6 m (339 ft 11 in) long and a beam of 19 m (62 ft 4 in). By comparison, the beam of both the NSC and OPC is 16m or 54 feet.

The thing that makes this ship totally unique is the runway and ski-jump designed expressly for fixed wing unmanned air systems.

Artist rendering of MQ-9B STOL landing on a big-deck amphibious assault vessel. Photo: Courtesy of General Atomics Aeronautical.

What might make this very useful is the newly developed STOL version of the MQ-9B with shorter span, high lift, folding wings.

Not sure I like this particular design. It is not clear how many UAS and helicopters can be carrier or if there is hangar space. The island is unnecessarily thick and looks too far forward. No indication of speed or endurance. The speed in unlikely to exceed 20 knots, between 16 and 18 knots seems likely, but the concept is novel. Look forward to seeing the ship in final form.

Late Addition: 

After posting this on Facebook, I got some additional information. This is a Google translate from Portuguese. Thanks to Pedro Mateus.

MULTI-PURPOSE PLATFORM SHIP Lisbon, Portugal June 20, 2022 On June 20, 2022, the Portuguese Navy launched a tender limited by simplified prior qualification, via procedure no. of a Multipurpose Vessel/Platform (N-PM), with an execution period of up to 3 years (with delivery until December 2025), for a base price of 94.5 million Euros.

This Multipurpose Ship/Platform (N-PM) will have a total length, between perpendiculars, of 100 meters, a maximum beam (at flight deck level) of 20 meters and a maximum draft of 7.5 meters. It will follow STANAG 4154 (Ed 3) standards and will be able to maintain the operation of lowering and hoisting vessels in sea state 5 on the Douglas Scale. Its garrison will be composed of 1 commander, 7 officers, 8 sergeants and 29 soldiers, in a total of 45 elements. It has accommodation sized up to 28 officers, 30 sergeants and 32 enlisted men, for a total of 90 elements (in addition to the commander). It will be dimensioned for a range of 45 days at a cruising speed of 10 knots.

The N-PM shall comprise a set of aviation facilities including, among others, a flight deck (a ski-jump runway, a spot for helicopter operation, with lighting system, GPI, etc.), hangar for a helicopter (with support for hydraulic maintenance stations, overhead crane, technical lighting, etc.) and a hangar for unmanned aircraft. In terms of organic helicopter, it should support the Lynx MK95A and NH90 aircraft (either in “spot” or in hangar) and EH101 (“spot”). The flight deck must allow the operation of different types of unmanned aircraft, commonly known as “drones” (Ogassa OGS42, Tekever AR3, etc.), as well as all the support required for vertical refueling operations (VERTREP).

Within the scope of semi-rigid vessels, the N-PM will have 3 vessels: a vessel with
SOLAS (“Safety of Life at Sea”) certification for operation as “Fast
Rescue Boat”, with a power of not less than 250 hp; and two non-cooperative approach vessels, with capacity for 8 equipped soldiers, with a maximum speed of 35 knots or higher and a minimum autonomy of 60 nautical miles, for inspection missions , policing, combating drug trafficking, assault and support for a small embarked force.

Following the good practices and installation and operation recommendations of the “Alliance of European Research Fleets” (EUROFLEET), in terms of support systems for scientific research, the N-PM will be designed to be able to operate subsurface Unmanned Vehicles (VENTs) and remotely operated vehicles – “Remotely Operated Vehicle” (ROV). It will have a sensor pavilion (“drop keel”) for the installation of scientific and acoustic sensors; a large volume “Rosette” CTD system (for deep water sampling, with probe capable of operating up to 6,000 m); an MVP system, “Moving Vessel Profiler”, capable of operating up to 700 meters deep with the ship sailing at 8 knots; an “Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler” (ADCP); a “Global Acoustic Positioning System” (GAPS), capable of operating up to 4,000 meters deep. In addition to these organic systems, the N-PM will have the capacity and integration for several other non-organic systems (Piston Corer – Calypso, Vibrocorer, Box Corer, Multi Corer, etc.) as well as all operating and support winches.

Under an integrated architecture of command and control, platform management, and digital information processing and management systems, this N-PM will have a set of navigation systems (IBS, DDU, TACAN, Secure GPS, etc.), with navigation radar surveillance systems, combined warning radar (ARPA capability, “Automatic Radar Plotting Aid” and IMO certification; ECM and Anti-Jamming) and IFF/W-AIS identification systems, as well as underwater surveillance systems (bathythermograph; support for XBT/XSV probe used in the Navy (XBT4, XBT5, XBT7 and MK-8 XBT/XSV) or CTD type probes). In terms of external communications, it will have, among others, satellite communication systems SATCOM and MILSATCOM, GMDSS, submarine telephone, SART, EPIRB and ICCS.

In terms of armament, the N-PM will be equipped, at least, with 4 “softmounts” for a Browning M2 .50 heavy machine gun, with a firing range limiter and respective accessories, and a base, with ballistic protection for the Browning part and respective operator; and with 2 pieces of Hotchkiss salvo. The N-PM will be equipped with magazines and armories capable of storing various portable weapons, ammunition, pyrotechnic material and demolition material and respective detonators.

Technical drawing and 3D model via the Portuguese Navy Ships Directorate
Editing and composition by “Espada & Escudo”

“Ukraine Unleashes Mass Kamikaze Drone Boat Attack On Russia’s Black Sea Fleet Headquarters” –The Drive

Russian frigate Admiral Makarov

The Drive reports, it appears Ukraine made a mass attack of unmanned air and surface craft on Russia’s primary naval base in the Black Sea, Sevastopol (Ukraine is not claiming responsibility). There seems to be confirmation from Russia that minor damage was done to a minesweeper, but other reports indicate a relatively new frigate, the Admiral Markarov, serving as flagship of the Black Sea Fleet, may also have been damaged. Video in the report shows a very close approach to a frigate of the same class, apparently by an unmanned surface craft before the video ends abruptly.

Russia is also claiming that the UK was involved in the planning of the attack.

While unlikely, how to defend against such  attacks probably should be in the Coast Guard’s skill set. Force protection and harbor defense are potential missions.

“Beware the Explosive Vessels” –Real Clear Defense

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

Real Clear Defense suggests that the damage to the Kerch bridge connecting Crimea to Russia may have been done by an Unmanned Surface Vessel (USV) like the one reportedly found aground earlier.

They go on to talk about explosive laden surface vessels of all sizes, both as potential weapons and potential threats, and how hard they can be to counter.

We have talked about this threat several times, but this post offered an example I had not previously mentioned.

“…when a ship filled with explosives bound for Europe during World War I collided with another vessel in Halifax Harbor in 1917 and caught fire, the resulting explosion obliterated everything within a half-mile radius, inflicted copious damage at greater distances, and created a 60-foot tsunami that wiped out whole communities. That vessel had about 2% of the cargo capacity of today’s largest cargo ships.”

“U.S., U.K. Navies Conduct Unmanned Exercise in Arabian Gulf” –Seapower / and the Coast Guard is There

Naval forces from the United States and United Kingdom conducted a bilateral exercise in the Arabian Gulf, Oct. 7. U.S. NAVY (That is USCGC Robert Goldman (WPC 1142) at the end of the column.)

The Navy League’s on-line magazine, Seapower, reports,

Naval forces from the United States and United Kingdom conducted a bilateral exercise in the Arabian Gulf, Oct. 7, which featured the use of unmanned systems and artificial intelligence to enhance maritime monitoring by crewed ships and operators ashore, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command Public Affairs said in an Oct. 7 release.

The one-day exercise, called Phantom Scope, occurred in international waters off the coast of Bahrain with forces from U.S. 5th Fleet and the UK Royal Navy. Three Saildrone Explorer unmanned surface vessels (USVs) participated alongside guided-missile destroyer USS Delbert D. Black (DDG 119), fast response cutter USCGC Robert Goldman (WPC 1142) and Royal Navy mine countermeasures vessels HMS Chiddingfold (M37) and HMS Bangor (M109).

US Naval Forces, Central Command, has been very actively pushing and experimenting with unmanned systems and the Coast Guard’s PATFORSWA has been actively involved in these experiments. Hopefully some of the experience will help the Coast Guard with its own exploitation of unmanned systems.

Two MANTAS T-12 unmanned surface vessels operate alongside a U.S. Coast Guard patrol boat during exercise New Horizon in the Arabian Gulf. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Dawson Roth)

“Sea Serpent ASW system successfully used by US Navy” –Navy Recognition

Sea Serpent system deployed from a boat (MIND photo)

Navy Recognition reports,

“On September 27, 2022, MIND Technologies Inc., a Texas/U.S.-based company providing underwater research solutions, announced the successful demonstration of its Sea Serpent ASW system during the U.S. Navy’s Coastal Trident 2022 exercise.”

The Sea Serpent system is described by Mind Technologies as,

  • “…based on COTS Seismic Arrays, applicable for Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA), and Waterside Security (WSS) applications.
  • “…designed for rapid deployment from USV platforms or as a ‘clip-on’ capability to existing light- and medium-weight Coast Guard (emphasis appkied–Chuck) or Naval vessels
  • “…modular and scalable, with lengths from 50 m to over 12,000 m acoustic aperture available
  • “Processing uses a scalable, app-based architecture and includes multiple beamforming options,  as well as broadband, narrowband/LOFAR, and DEMON processing
  • “Other apps will include Automatic Detection and Tracking (ADT) and Target Motion Analysis (TMA)
  • “The architecture is fully open to allow third-party/government processing and supports private cloud operation for distributed tracking, multi-static processing, and data fusion.”

All the reports I have seen were based on the company’s news release so we don’t have an independent evaluation of its success.

An exercise with the United States Coast Guard’s Maritime Security Response Team-West was leveraged to conduct Advanced Naval Technology Exercise experiments with wearable sensors and remote physiological monitoring.

Coastal Trident is a series of annual exercises conducted by Naval Surface Warfare Center’s Port Hueneme Division. Apparently the Coast Guard has participated in the exercise in the past. It certainly seems to be something the CG should be interested in.

 

“Mystery Drone Boat Washes Up Near Home Of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet” –The Drive

See the linked post for more photos

The Drive/The War Zone discusses reports of a possible suicide drone surface vessel. This looks more sophisticated than the unmanned explosive motor boats that were used by Yemen’ Houthi faction, possibly using satelite communications to allow it to be operated over much greater distance from the control station.

“Iranian ship intercepted while trying to detain American drone” –Breaking Defense

USS Thunderbolt, seen here in both Coast Guard and Navy markings during its period of service in the USCG. U.S. Coast Guard photo by David Schuffholz

Breaking Defense reports,

The US Navy’s 5th Fleet today announced it thwarted an attempt by an Iranian ship to seize an American unmanned surface vessel operating in the Arabian Gulf.

(See the video below.)

The unit that stopped this Iranian vessel from making off with the Saildrone was USS Thunderbolt (PC-12), supported by a helicopter of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 26, presumably an MH-60S. Vessels of this class are in the process of being decommissioned from the US Navy. Most of their functions will be performed USCG Webber class WPCs of Patrol Forces SW Asia.

This incident does seem to highlight a, not unexpected, aspect of Unmanned Surface Vessel (USV) deployment. Rogue nations and even non-state actors may try to steal them. As we see here, there may be little or no consequences if they are caught in the act, so there is little to deter a repeated attempt.

Next time it happens, it is likely that a Coast Guard cutter will be sent to retrieve it.

Wikipedia provides this information on the Saildrone Explorer.

“The Saildrone Explorer is a 23-foot-long (7.0 m) USV that can sail at an average speed of 3 knots (5.6 km/h; 3.5 mph) (depending on the wind) and stay at sea for up to 365 days. The Explorer is designed for fisheries missions, metocean data collection, ecosystem monitoring, and satellite calibration and validation missions.”

Bigger, more expensive and more capable Saildrones are on the way.

The US Coast Guard has been experimenting with Seadrones of this class, and has supported 5th Fleets experiments with them.

GULF OF AQABA (Feb. 13, 2022) The U.S. Coast Guard Sentinel-class cutter USCGC Glen Harris (WPC 1144) sails near a U.S sail drone explorer during the International Maritime Exercise/Cutlass Express (IMX) 2022, Feb. 13, 2022. IMX/CE 2022 is the largest multinational training event in the Middle East, involving more than 60 nations and international organizations committed to enhancing partnerships and interoperability to strengthen maritime security and stability. (U.S. Army photo by Cpl. DeAndre Dawkins)

Thanks to Walter for bringing this to my attention.

Contracts For “Continued Studies of a Large Unmanned Surface Vessel”

MetalCraft Marine 7 meter “The Watcher” Autonomous Surface Vessel (ASV)

I have to believe that the Navy’s efforts in Unmanned Surface Vessels will ultimately have a significant implact on the way the Coast Guard does its business, so a recent series of contract awards reported in “The US Department of Defense Daily Digest Bulletin, Contracts for July 29, 2022” is of interest. 


Marinette Marine Corp., Marinette, Wisconsin, is awarded a $10,212,620 firm-fixed-price modification to previously awarded contract N00024-20-C-6317 for continued studies of a large unmanned surface vessel. Work will be performed in Marinette, Wisconsin, and is expected to be completed by September 2024. Fiscal 2022 research, development, test and evaluation (Navy) funds in the amount of $149,841 will be obligated at time of award and will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, D.C., is the contracting activity.

Bollinger Shipyards Lockport LLC, Lockport, Louisiana, is awarded a $9,428,770 firm-fixed-price modification to previously awarded contract N00024-20-C-6316 for continued studies of a large unmanned surface vessel. This contract modification includes options which, if exercised, would bring the cumulative value of this contract modification to $13,958,770. Work will be performed in Lockport, Louisiana, and is expected to be completed by September 2024. If all options are exercised, work will continue through September 2024. Fiscal 2022 research, development, test and evaluation (Navy) funds in the amount of $149,933 will be obligated at time of award and will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, D.C., is the contracting activity.

Austal USA LLC, Mobile, Alabama, is awarded a $9,115,310 firm-fixed-price modification to previously awarded contract N00024-20-C-6315 for continued studies of a large unmanned surface vessel. This contract modification includes options which, if exercised, would bring the cumulative value of this contract modification to $13,285,309. Work will be performed in Mobile, Alabama, and is expected to be completed by September 2024. If all options are exercised, work will continue through September, 2024. Fiscal 2022 research, development, test and evaluation (Navy) funds in the amount of $149,878 will be obligated at time of award and will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, D.C., is the contracting activity.

Gibbs & Cox Inc., Arlington, Virginia, is awarded an $8,981,231 firm-fixed-price modification to previously awarded contract N00024-20-C-6318 for continued studies of a large unmanned surface vessel. This contract modification includes options which, if exercised, would bring the cumulative value of this contract modification to $15,071,231. Work will be performed in Arlington, Virginia, and is expected to be completed by September 2024. If all options are exercised, work will continue through September 2024. Fiscal 2022 research, development, test and evaluation (Navy) funds in the amount of $149,899 will be obligated at time of award and will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, D.C., is the contracting activity.

“Sea Air Space 2022” –Naval News Video Coverage

Below I have posted two videos by Naval News, along with the breakdown of topics that accompanied the videos on YouTube. The video of the 30mm Mk38 Mod4 with its included electro-optic fire control system is probably of most immediate interest to the Coast Guard, but the increasing tendency to containerize weapon systems is appears ready to make any cutter (and almost any other ship) a missile carrier.

  • 01:06 – Constellation-class frigate program with Fincantieri Marinette Marine
  • 04:30 – MSI Defence Mark 38 Mod 4 30mm naval gun system
  • 07:53 – Lockheed Martin’s Expeditionary Launching System
  • 09:21 – BAE Systems E-Launcher
  • 09:52 – Kongsberg NSM-HL helicopter launched naval strike missile

  • 00:43 – Kongsberg Hugin Edge UUV
  • 02:27 – General Dynamics Tethered Unmanned Aerial Systems
  • 03:36 – Shield AI’s Hivemind (V-BAT also –Chuck)
  • 05:23 – Saildrone Explorer USV
  • 06:48 – PennState’s 54″ Large Test Vehicle UUV