Overnight Ukraine appears to have launched a coordinated attack on a ship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet and its homeport of Sevastopol in Crimea. In the dark of night, unmanned aerial vehicles attacked installations in the port, and the Russian guided missile frigate Makarov was attacked by what appeared to be several uncrewed surface vessels packed with explosives. Several videos on line of the attack suggest at least one of the vessels struck the ship on the starboard side.
The type of USV employed is probably Ukrainian-built and has been previously used to attempt to strike at the Russian navy. In September one of these vessels washed ashore in Crimea and was recovered by Russian forces.
The vessel itself is not very large, perhaps 15 ft in length and has some interesting features.
First, it appears to be propelled by a gasoline-powered water jet engine used by personal watercraft. The black hole is probably an exhaust port. The entire vessel may be based on a watercraft hull that has been repurposed for this task. With a large enough fuel tank it could travel several hundred miles
This appears to be an off-the-shelf satellite transceiver antenna to steer and guide the craft to its target.
This appears to be an electro-optical video camera with infrared camera capability as well.
On the bow, there seems to be a laser range finder to judge the distance to the target and two detonators built into the hull. This device could be triggered either by direct contact or by an electronic signal. The use of two detonators is to compensate for the movement of the bow up and down as it approaches the target in ocean waves. Whether the bow is up or down, one of the detonators should make contact with the hull of the target.
The video of the attack is pretty interesting to watch. It seems to show a successful attack on the Makarov which is trying desperately to avoid the attack, even using a helicopter to try and strafe it. At one point the USV gets within feet of the Frigate before the video cuts out, suggesting it detonated. As the USV approaches it is engaged by the guns of the Makarov which are misses as the USV dodges and weaves its way to the target. A helicopter appears and attempts to engage the USV unsuccessfully with its door guns.
The curious thing about all this is that the Makarov has two AK-630 radar-controlled close-in weapons systems that should have been able to engage this target easily and shower it with 30mm cannon fire. Neither appeared to be in working order.
A second part of the video shows another USV pressing into the harbor of Sevastopol before being destroyed or self-detonating as it approached the shore.
2/2 In occupied Sevastopol, "at least three Russian Kaliber missile carrier ships were damaged. Among them is the Admiral Makarov frigate. There is a good chance that several ships are not just damaged, but sunk," Tsaplienko wrote. pic.twitter.com/Sm370TMW9D
— Euromaidan Press (@EuromaidanPress) October 29, 2022
There is also video and photographic evidence that UAVs attacked land and perhaps docked vessels in Sevastopol itself. There are reports of multiple explosions in the immediate vicinity of the naval base, but some could easily be misfires of S-300 air-to-air missiles coming back down and exploding after launch. While Ukraine tends to stay pretty quiet about the details of these attacks Russia’s Defence Ministry claimed that the base and its ships were subjected to a “terrorist” attack with nine UAVs and seven maritime drones. Russia claimed that all targets were destroyed with only minor damage to a minesweeper. One ship sustained minor damage.
Russia then withdrew from the grain deal immediately after the attack, claiming its navy was protecting the ship carrying Ukrainian grain from attack by Ukraine, which would seem to be a self-refuting claim. The grain deal only existed in the first place because Russia was blockading Ukrainian and attacking grain silos in Odesa and Mykolaiv.
The ultimate goal of the Ukraine offensive is the recapture of Crimea and the naval base at Sevastopol. Sevastopol is one of the largest naval bases in the world with extensive dry docks and repair facilities. There is also a nearby base for nuclear missile and attack submarines.
There are no fewer than 5 military airbases at Saky, Belbek, Katcha, and Hvardiiske including Russia’s combat helicopter testing center.
Crimea is also home to the Russian equivalent of the US Naval Academy to train her naval officers.
In the area of Sudak, it is believed that Russia upgraded Feodosi-13, a restricted access facility that stored nuclear weapons during the Cold War.
Crimea is easier to take than it is to hold on to. The peninsula is served by the Kerch bridge into Russian Georgia, a narrow causeway of raised sand running on its northeast coast on the sea of Azov and its central supply hub from Russia run through occupied Melitopol. When Ukraine’s offensive drives on this city, it will be with the goal of cutting off Crimea from the Russian mainland.
Losing Crimea will require the mass evacuation of the Black Sea Fleet to Georgia and the loss of billions of rubles worth of stores, fuel, equipment and materials. It would also result in the forcible expulsion of more than 1 million Russians who make up nearly 60% of the region’s population of almost 2 million people.