At least one, if not two, unmanned surface warships have been spotted on a rocky coastline near the Russian Navy stronghold of Sevastopol, Crimea.
The black craft looks to be a knock-off, featuring an electro-optical camera, a laser rangefinder, and two steel protrusions on the bow that might be detonators or contactors for an explosive device. Analysts speculate that a flat panel installed on the stern might be a satellite antenna for a remote-control uplink. The characters “4 5 VZNSI” are written on the bow.
Remote-controlled “bomb boats” have played an important role in Yemen’s civil war, as Houthi terrorists have utilised Iranian-supplied components to create unmanned suicide boats to strike Saudi vessels. In 2017, one similar bomb successfully struck and destroyed the Royal Saudi Navy ship Al-Madinah.
However, the craft discovered on Wednesday would be the first known sighting of such a weapon in Ukraine’s war.
According to Russian news reports, two peculiar watercraft may have been recovered from the shore. In addition, photos from the same day show an explosion off the shore, which might be a controlled detonation of a USV vessel.
According to UK intelligence, the Russian Navy has moved its attack submarines from Sevastopol to its base in Novorossiysk, roughly 170 nautical miles to the east. Over the last month, Ukrainian troops have carried out effective assaults against Russian assets in Crimea, including a large-scale attack on a Russian naval airbase and three drone strikes on the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s headquarters.
“[The relocation] is highly likely due to the recent change in the local security threat level in the face of increased Ukrainian long-range strike capability,” wrote UK Defence Intelligence in an update Tuesday.
The agency drew attention to a slight irony in the conflict: The new invasion of Ukraine, which started in February, has reduced base security. Likely, one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s motivations for annexing Crimea in 2014 was to ensure base security for Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol.
Russian Navy surface vessels have been fired upon several times in the northern Black Sea, including the fleet flagship Moskva, struck and sunk by two Ukrainian anti-ship missiles in April.