Surface Forces: Raptors Ravaged By Ukrainians


May 13, 2022: In late 2020 the Russian Navy received its 17th Raptor (Project 03160) patrol boat. The original order for 14 Raptors was completed in late 2018 and ten more were ordered. Raptors first saw combat in the Black Sea during the February 24 Russian invasion of Ukraine. On March 21 the first Raptor was lost off the port of Mariupol when it was hit by a Ukrainian anti-tank rocket. On May 2nd two more Raptors were destroyed by missiles fired by a Ukrainian UAV near Snake Island, off the Ukrainian coast at the mouth of the Danube River. On May 7th two more Raptors were destroyed in the same area, along with a Russian landing craft. A third Raptor was damaged and returned to port. At the start of the invasion there were seven Raptors in the Black Sea and another may have been transferred from the Caspian Sea via a ship canal.

Most of the Raptors were lost near Snake Island, which is part of Ukraine but was taken by the Russians on the first day of the invasion when the Russian cruiser Moskva and a Raptor patrol boat approached the island and demanded that the 13 Border Guards based on the island surrender. Border Guard Roman Hrybov replied with the Ukrainian version of “Fuck you.” This exchange between the Border Guards and the Moskva was recorded by the Ukrainian government as was the video of the initial attack that was live-streamed by one of the Border Guards. After Moskva and the Raptor opened fire and sent troops ashore, it was believed the garrison was killed. That later proved to be untrue and the border guards were freed in prisoner exchanges. Since February 24th the Russian troops on Snake Island have suffered casualties from several air and missile strikes by the Ukrainians that have destroyed Russian anti-aircraft systems on the island and killed at least 42 Russian soldiers. The Russians have also lost at least one landing craft and several Raptors used to resupply the island. In April the Moskva was hit by two Ukrainian anti-ship missiles while operating east of Snake Island, near the Ukrainian port of Odessa. Moskva soon sank. By then Ukrainians saw the defiant response of the Border Guards on Snake Island as a metaphor for Ukrainian resistance, and Roman Hrybov’s response to the surrender ultimatum became a catchphrase for all Ukrainians to continued Russian aggression.

Raptors are built at a St Petersburg shipyard where the prototype was completed and tested successfully in 2013. Patrol boats like this have turned out to be the only successful post-Cold War Russian warship construction projects. Because of the losses inflicted by the Ukrainians, Russia will have to reconsider how these boats are used in a combat zone.

The Russian Raptor is a 23-ton, 17-meter (54 foot) long, fast (up to 90 kilometers an hour) patrol boat that is manned by a crew of two or three with space for twenty passengers or two tons of cargo. Passengers could be a boarding party, commandos or people rescued at sea. Raptor is armed with a remotely controlled 14.5mm machine-gun with a range of 2,000 meters and an optical fire control system with a max range of 3,000 meters. There are fittings for two more manually operated 7.62mm machine-gun (max range 1,500 meters). Additional weapons, like shoulder-fired anti-vehicle or anti-aircraft missiles can be brought on board as needed. Raptors have bulletproof ballistic panels around personnel areas as well as bulletproof glass already installed in the bridge and the passenger cabin.

Navigation systems (including radar and satellite positioning) allow for day and night operation. With internal fuel, a Raptor can stay at sea for up to 24 hours and operate up to 200 kilometers from base. More are expected to be ordered because Raptor has proven reliable and useful. Many of the 17 Raptors built or on order were sent to the Black Sea, to replace the many Cold War era patrol boats there. Some Raptors have been sent to the Caspian and Baltic Seas as well.

Most of the older Russian Cold War era patrol boats date back 30-40 years and are inoperable. At the end of the Cold War, Russia had over 400 coastal patrol boats, most of them armed with anti-ship missiles or torpedoes. Nearly all of these are gone and being replaced by less heavily armed patrol boats that can also do search and rescue. Money shortages have meant that many of the Cold War era patrol boats have not been replaced and often patrol/search and rescue duties have been carried out by whatever civilian boats local governments could obtain. The Raptors are being used primarily to protect high-value locations like naval bases or major ports.

Export customers are hard to find because Raptor is very similar to the 21-ton Swedish CB90 patrol boat which entered service in 1991. CB90 has been a very popular export item and nearly 300 have been produced in Sweden or built abroad under license. The Swedish Navy has about 150 CB90s and these boats have been a common sight in the Baltic since the 1990s. The CB90s are also equipped to carry and use a few depth charges or naval mines.

While CB90 is smaller (15.9-meters) than Raptor it has about the same capabilities and can carry 21 passengers. The crew of three operates a remotely controlled 12.7mm machine-gun as additional weapons (two more 12.7mm machine-guns and a 40mm automatic grenade launcher) that can be operated by passengers. Top speed is 74 kilometers an hour and max range is 440 kilometers at cruising speed of 37 kilometers an hour. CB90 also has water jet devices for precision movement.

FPBs (Fast Patrol Boats), some armed with missiles, have been around for decades. Lighter, more capable missiles and more compact and capable electronics have made these ships more powerful and popular. Although the United States does not use them, American builders, like Swiftship, design and manufacture Fast Patrol Boats. For example, in 2009 Iraq ordered nine 35-meter (115 foot) patrol boats from Swiftship. Each of these ships cost about $20 million. They are armed with a 30mm autocannon forward and a 12.7mm machine-gun aft (in the rear) and two 7.62mm machine-guns, one on each side of the bridge. The Iraqis had most of the superstructure made bulletproof. These ships have a crew of 25 (including four officers) and endurance of about six days. Top speed is about 55 kilometers an hour. Egypt already operates smaller (25 meter) versions of this design, and is pleased with the performance of these ships.

Italy, along with Britain, Sweden and France design and build a lot of these Fast Patrol Boats. For example, the Italian built Saettia Mk. 4 missile patrol boats carry a crew of 38 (including a dozen marines for boarding ships). Top speed is about 70 kilometers an hour, and they can stay at sea for about a week. Armament varies but usually consists of a 30mm automatic cannon and two machine-guns.

In 2020 the Greek Navy put the last of seven Roussen 660-ton Fast Patrol Boats into service. These were armed with missiles and each cost about $160 million. Roussen-class ships are heavily armed for a 62-meter (198 foot) ship with a crew of 45. Top speed is 65 kilometers an hour and armament consists of a 76mm cannon, eight MM40 anti-ship missiles (range 72 kilometers), a 21 cell RAM anti-aircraft/missile launcher and two 30mm autocannon. There is an extensive number of radars and fire-control systems to operate all these weapons as well as navigation along with an electro-optical sensor for closer targets. The Roussens are a British design based on the smaller Vita-class 52-meter patrol boats designed by BAE Systems for Qatar, Oman and other customers. The Vitas were built in the 1990s with similar armament. The first Roussen entered service in 2005 and all were built in Greece with technical assistance from BAE.

In late 2020 Britain offered to build eight Roussens for Ukraine, which was still trying to rebuild its navy after most of their warships were lost when Russia seized Crimea and the port of Sevastopol, where the Ukrainian navy and the Russian Black Sea Fleet was based. NATO nations were offering Ukraine used warships at low, or no cost at all. Ukraine preferred to spend most of its defense procurement budget on its ground and air forces because they feared more Russian attacks.

The Swedes preferred the smaller and cheaper ($100,000 each) CB90 that can operate in shallow (one meter/three feet deep) water. The coast guard versions have a radar and a crew of six or more sailors. While the larger FPBs are equipped to operate in a combat zone, the smaller ones like CB90 are not. That has been demonstrated in the Black Sea where the Russian Raptor force has been nearly wiped out in less than two months.




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