Ukraine is able to destroy Russia’s ships due to its weak defenses against exploding drone boats.

Ukraine is able to destroy Russia's ships due to its weak defenses against exploding drone boats.

Ukraine’s Waterborne Drone Attacks Expose Weaknesses in Russian Defenses

Ukraine’s waterborne drone attacks

Recent waterborne drone attacks launched by Ukraine against Russian ships have brought to light significant weaknesses in Russia’s defenses. The drones, although small and unassuming, have proven to be a scrappy and effective solution for Ukraine’s lack of naval might. However, according to an expert, even modest countermeasures by Russia could make these attacks difficult.

The success of Ukrainian unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) against Russian ships is partially attributed to the novel and unexpected threat they pose. With only a limited naval fleet, Ukraine’s leaders have chosen to focus on developing “the world’s first naval fleet of drones.” As a result, Ukraine has gained an “asymmetrical advantage” in naval warfare.

The recent attacks on the Ropucha-class landing ship Olenegorsky Gornyak and the Russian merchant tanker Sig exemplify failures in Russian defenses. These attacks have caused severe damage and flooding to the targeted vessels. Interestingly, it seems that Russia did not anticipate these assaults. In one video, the drone was able to approach the ship undetected before detonating on impact. Despite Russian denials, photographic evidence confirmed the significant flooding and damage to the Olenegorsky Gornyak.

One key factor contributing to the success of the Ukrainian drone attacks is their unique features. These drones are designed to move at high speeds and have a low-profile in the water, making them difficult to detect by human lookouts and radar sweeps. Ship crews must be prepared to respond quickly and effectively, which requires setting radar filters to scan for these threats and ensuring watchstanders are familiar with what these boats look like. Given their speed, crewmembers may have mere minutes to react.

Many believe that Ukraine’s drone fleets are being designed with the assistance of Western partners, resulting in relatively sophisticated models. These unmanned boats are activated remotely and are usually programmed to speed towards a target and detonate on impact.

Ukrainian drone boat

As the drone attacks show no signs of stopping, the question arises: How will Russia respond? Other powerful navies, such as the US and its European allies, would utilize various resources to track and destroy drone boats. The Phalanx close-in weapon system, also known as the “sea-wiz,” can locate, track, and fire at drones using rapid bursts of 20mm fire. Additionally, high-power microwave systems or anti-drone lasers could be used to disrupt the electronics operating the drones. However, if a large swarm or fleet of drones attacks at once, it would be difficult to neutralize all of them before reaching a ship.

Russian anti-submarine destroyer fires during military exercises

Considering this potential escalation, if Russia ramps up its defenses, Ukraine may need to increase the number of its drone boats. Controlling attack boat swarms presents additional challenges compared to unmanned aerial vessels (UAVs) due to water conditions, weather, and the risk of unintended collisions. Moreover, limited visibility from a first-person view camera on the drones further restricts operators’ situational awareness.

If Ukraine must launch greater numbers of waterborne drones to overwhelm potential Russian defenses, the cost-effectiveness and coordination of these attacks become more complicated. However, the successful utilization of drone boats by Ukraine thus far is an example of how Russia’s vast military power has underestimated its adversary.

In conclusion, Ukraine’s waterborne drone attacks have revealed vulnerabilities in Russia’s defenses. Ukraine’s inventive use of this asymmetrical warfare strategy has provided them with an advantage. As Russia considers how to respond, it is clear that the success of these attacks is a testament to Ukraine’s ability to exploit the weaknesses of a formidable opponent.