Ukrainian Shadowy Kamikaze drone boats officially come out of cover

We’ve now had our best look at the Ukrainian Tactical Unmanned Surface Vessels, or USVs, that have been employed in an unprecedented attack on the Russian Navy base in Sevastopol on the occupied Crimean peninsula last month, thanks to an official crowdfunding campaign. Ukrainian authorities say they hope to raise enough funds to buy 100 of the drone boats, which they say are capable of hitting targets as far away as 500 miles, among other missions.

New USV footage and images were released by the Ukrainian government Friday through his UNITED24 fundraising platform as part of a crowdfunding effort for boats. USVs, completed and under construction, are 18-foot-long vessels said to be capable of carrying a combat load of up to 400 pounds, with a maximum top speed of around 50 mph. Each USV has a price tag of $250,000, which the website says includes an autonomous ground control station, a transport and storage system, and “a data processing center.” It’s unclear exactly what is meant by a data processing center and UNITED24 officials declined to answer, citing operational security concerns.

Picture UNITED24
Picture UNITED24
Picture UNITED24

Considering that some of the costs include ancillary items such as the transport and storage system, and possibly the data center, the actual cost of USVs alone is likely lower. It’s really unclear how they would cost so much, but they are handmade with some key technologies. Either way, they’re orders of magnitude cheaper than something like the naval strike missile, for example, which has an individual price of $2,194,000. You can read more about the cost of US Navy ship-launched missiles here.

UNITED24 is an initiative of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to raise funds for a wide range of items needed by Ukrainian military and civilians.

“We must defend the waters of our seas and our peaceful cities against Russian missiles launched from ships,” Zelensky wrote on his Telegram channel on Friday. “Naval drones will also help unlock the corridor for civilian ships carrying grain for the world.”

Zelensky alluded to past use of USVs depicted on the website.

“I am sure that millions of people will support this important area of ​​defense of Ukraine,” he said. “Everyone has already seen how it works.”

The drone boat underway during trials. (UNITED24)
Possibly a prototype of the drone boat being tested. (UNITED24)

Zelensky’s feelings were echoed by the head of the Ukrainian Navy.

“Such naval drones have already proven their effectiveness and can significantly change the situation in the Black Sea,” Oleksiy Neizhpapa, Vice Admiral, Commander of the Naval Forces of the Ukrainian Navy, said in a press release.

Images and video posted on the UNITED24 website show a USV apparently identical to those captured in footage shared by Ukraine of USVs used in its October 29 attack on the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol.

You can read more about this attack and its future implications here. They also look very similar, if not identical to a USV who failed in Crimea at the end of September.

Some of the Ukrainian USVs currently under construction. (photo UNITED24)

When the configuration of Ukraine’s unmanned suicide drone boat first appeared on a rocky bench in the Crimea, it was clear that they would become a major threat to deal with. The jet-black, low-slung, jet-propelled boat almost like a kayak, sported multiple camera systems, bow-mounted impact detonation sensors and what appeared to be a satellite communications antenna, and was in a class very different from what we have seen before for this type of weapon.

The mysterious unmanned surface craft that ran aground in Crimea in early September. At the time, The war zone Analysis indicated that the ultra-low-profile jet-ski-powered unmanned boat was a “suicide drone” configuration armed for impact detonation.

It now appears that these are specifically designed to be fast, maneuverable, difficult to detect and engage, and most importantly, have a control beyond line of sight (BLOS) capability. While not uncommon on unmanned surface ships today, it is new to those intended to be durable anti-ship weapons in their own right. Although it seems that, since the specifications include both operational radius and maximum range, some could also be deployed to be recoverable. It is unclear how many of these USVs may currently be operational.

On the other hand, it is possible that these could enter a target area autonomously using GPS navigation and then local “pilots” pick them up in line of sight to control them for their attack runs terminal. There are great advantages in complexity and maintaining the ability to dynamically maneuver and target when it really matters with such a “transfer” concept of operations. Also, it could serve as a fallback in case BLOS control is lost. Again, maybe it’s all done with the broadband satellite, including loop control, which would be a major achievement.

picture UNITED24
picture UNITED24
picture UNITED24
What appears to be a 3-cylinder Rotax Wave Runner engine powers the drones. (UNITED24)

The specifications released on Friday give us a better understanding of how Ukraine could have pulled off such an attack 130 miles from its closest coastline.

UNITED24 claims the USVs have an operational radius of up to about 250 miles, a range of up to about 500 miles, a top speed of about 50 miles per hour, and a “maximum combat payload” of about 400 books. It is unclear what UNITED24 means by maximum combat payload. It could be a combination of various things, including fuel and explosives, and these might be able to perform other missions beyond striking using other payloads. This is another question we asked them and will add further details if provided.

The UNITED24 specifications for unmanned surface vessels. (Screenshot from UNITED24)

They will be expected to be guided from a ground-based “autonomous” control station – likely a point-and-click desktop semi-autonomous setup – using satellite navigation or, in the case of areas without GPS , an inertial navigation system as well as visually through a video subsystem that also has night vision capabilities. We still don’t know what network they use for these, but watchers have pointed out in the past that the exposed satellite antenna on the back looks a lot like those available for use with Starlink.

The visual guidance system of the Ukrainian USV. (photo UNITED24)

The USVs are supposed to be able to run autonomously for up to 60 hours, but again, it’s unclear exactly what UNITED24 means by that. Again, we’ve asked for clarification and will update this story with any additional information.

If these figures are correct, this would allow USVs to operate in a wide swath of the western and central Black Sea and easily within range of Sevastopol.

With a claimed operational range of up to around 500 miles, Ukrainian USVs could patrol much of the Black Sea. (Google Earth image)

These USVs, Neizhpapa said, “can participate in long-range maritime reconnaissance and coastal surveillance, escort and support the traditional fleet, convoy merchant ships, zone artillery fire, defend our bases and counter amphibious operations. “.

The Russian fleet is “constantly terrorizing Ukraine and our cities”, Neizhpapa said. “A fleet of” 100 general-purpose surface craft will cement the Navy’s success, after the sinking of the cruiser Moskva and reconquest of Snake Island. They will also give us the opportunity to better protect both the sea and the entire territory of our country.

A Ukrainian USV being loaded aboard a carrier. (photo UNITED24)

Russia has launched more than 4,500 missiles at Ukraine, according to UNITED24, 20% of which came from the sea.

“Ukraine had nothing to oppose to these ships, as the Ukrainian fleet lost 80% of its ships after the occupation of Crimea in 2014,” according to UNITED24.

Although not entirely accurate, – Ukraine received RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles – with a reported range of around 250 miles, USVs can also strike much further than those anti-ship missile systems, which have a range of about 70 miles. They can also execute attacks in a totally different and unconventional way.

While Ukraine hopes to raise enough money to build a fleet of USVs to fill this gap, it remains to be seen how much money can be raised and how many will actually be built.

Since its launch, UNITED24 claims to have received donations from 110 countries, money used to buy, among other thingsnearly 50,000 sets of body armor, nearly 45,000 helmets, nearly 75,000 uniforms, nearly 70,000 sets of tactical underwear, over 1,400 drones and a helicopter.

We will keep an eye on this project to see how many USVs are produced and how they are deployed.

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Earnest A. Martinez