Surface Forces: Robotic Speedboats Dominate the Black Sea


January 9, 2024: In 2022 Ukraine conducted a crowdfunding campaign to raise $25 million so Ukraine could build at least a hundred Unmanned Surface Vessels or USVs. These were used to carry out a series of attacks on Russian warships, ports, and other coastal targets in Black Sea. Ukraine needed to protect its coastal waters and use of the Black Sea for shipping that carried Ukrainian exports and imports. By late 2023 this effort led to the development of a new USV called Cossack Mamai. This model is a major improvement on the earlier Sea Baby USV. Cossack Mamai is faster, at about 100 kilometers an hour and armored against machine-gun bullets. To stop this USV you need a weapon that fires 20mm or larger shells accurately enough to hit and disable a USV that is only about six meters long and a hard target to hit and disable or destroy. Cossack Mamai uses a satellite link and a video camera so that it can be remotely controlled to where its target is. The USV can carry 850 kg of explosives, and this enabled several of these USVs to disable the Kerch Strait bridge between Russia and Crimea.

Ukrainian President Zelensky backed the USV program because Ukraine didn’t have any warships while the Russian Black Sea Fleet was vulnerable because Turkey has threatened to close the Dardanelles strait to additional Russian warships seeking to enter the Black Sea and reinforce the depleted Russian Black Sea Fleet. The narrow Dardanelles is the only way in or out of the Black Sea and an international treaty allows Turkey to limit warship access to the Dardanelles in wartime. Turkey is more concerned about the safety of commercial shipping in the Black Sea and the continued movement of ships carrying Ukrainian grain out and commercial cargo for Ukraine coming into the Black Sea.

Ukraine did not invent the concept of USVs but did find new ways to use them in wartime. As a country without warships, Ukraine has used UAVs, USVs and guided missile and glide bombs to attack and disable Russian naval bases in the Black Sea and gradually destroy the Russian Black Sea Fleet. This reduced Russian naval activity in the Black Sea and eliminated a major threat to commercial shipping and use of Ukrainian Black Sea ports. The Russian Black Sea Fleet had been a source of attacks on the south by launching Kalibr cruise missiles at Ukrainian cities.

Ukraine’s USV’s have also proved effective at destroying or disabling Russian warships in the Black Sea and forcing the surviving warships to move to more distant ports. This includes the primary Russian naval bases in the Black Sea, which were Sevastopol in Crimea and Novorossiysk on the east coast of the Black Sea. Novorossiysk had a small naval base facility added in 2012. Ukrainian UAVs and USVs succeeded in driving the Russian Black Sea Fleet from Sevastopol so Novorossiysk is being used to host its surviving remnants. While Novorossiysk is mainly a commercial port, exporting oil and other goods produced in the area and handling most of the imports, most of that has been halted because the Ukrainian USVs make the Black Sea a dangerous place for Russian ships of any type.

Even Novorossiysk is not safe from the USVs and now Russia is considering building a naval base and a shipyard adjacent to Georgia, a small country over 800 kilometers from Crimea and the port of Sevastopol. Ukraine’s present USVs normally have a maximum range of 800 kilometers and a top speed of 80 kilometers an hour, so they’ll need new ones to hit any new Russian port near Georgia.




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