Russia Claims It Destroyed 25 Ukrainian USVs In Black Sea In Last 24 Hours

Ukrainian USVs
A Russian naval helicopter, possibly a Kamov Ka-27 engaging a Ukrainian kamikaze drone boat. In the insets, two images of the Ukrainian USVs damaged/captured (Image credit: The Aviationist, using Russian Ministry of Defense footage and images shared on Telegram)

The drone vessels, or USVs (Unmanned Surface Vehicles), were headed towards Crimea, the Russian MOD said.

Ukraine appears to have again intensified its naval kamikaze drone strikes against Russia’s BSF (Black Sea Fleet) in Crimea. Russia’s Ministry of Defense (RuMoD) claimed the destruction of a total of 15 Ukrainian drone boats on May over the last 24 hours on May 16, 2024 (the figure was reviewed to 25, in the report issued in the afternoon on May 17). Footage released by the RuMoD showed Russian helicopters, possibly Ka-27 Helix, shooting at vessels eventually destroying the “uncrewed boats” with “regular weapons.”

The footage that was circulated online shows small objects leaving a wake in the water captured from the helicopter’s side bay, and the door gun engaging the sea drones. At one point, a twin-barreled gun pod can be seen on the outboard stubs. If photos of other armed Ka-27 variants are anything to go by, these are installed one on each side.

While the make of the Ukrainian naval drones are not known, the service has been identified by experts using the Magura V5, various versions of the Sea Baby drones and the Mamai. It often uses them in coordination with strikes by Storm Shadow ALCM (Air-Launched Cruise Missiles) from Su-24 Fencer fighter bombers to cause maximum confusion and disarray among Russian defenders, while also overwhelming their surveillance systems.

Ukraine’s Naval Drones – Major Irritant for Russia

So far it appears that the BSF has set up its sea and aerial surveillance against Ukrainian USVs after several devastating tactical losses.

Some of the notable kamikaze actions include the Russian corvette Ivanovets being hit on January 31, 2024, and the landing ship Caesar Kunikov on February 14, 2024. Another footage in mid-May showing a Ka-27 helicopter destroying a Ukrainian USV that was carrying an R-73 AAM (Air-to-Air Missile), converted for SAM roles. The same day also saw a Magura V5 destroying the Russian Project 12150 “Mongoose”. high-speed patrol boat.

In late-2023, Ukrainian USVs hit six Russian warships. It claimed these included missile carrier Samun, a Project 22160 Pavel Derzhavin large patrol corvette, a chemical tanker Sig, amphibious assault/landing ship Oleneogorsky Gornyak, navy tugboat Nikolay Mur, and a new reconnaissance ship Vladimir Kaztskyi (Vladimir Kozytskyi).”

The Samum was struck by a Sea Baby USV on September 14, 2023; the Pavel Derzhavin on October 11; the Sig on August 4-5, which sustained “a hole in the engine room near the waterline”; the Oleneogorsky Gornyak hit by the Mamai on August 4 near the Russian port of Novorossiysk; the Vladimir Kozytskyi on October 26, that reported an “explosion” with smoke billowing from the engine room; and the Professor Nikolay Muru tugboat on October 14.

A Ukrainian USV captured by Russian forces. Note the missile launcher (Image via Telegram)

Helicopters vs Drones

According to RT, the boats destroyed on May 16, 2024, were headed in the “direction of Crimea” in “three groups,” and were “spotted” while being on “approach to the peninsula during the day.” The first attack happened around 2 pm, when BSF helicopters sank 11 drones “using their on-board guns.”

One more drone was spotted and dispatched within the next hour as well. This was followed by another attempted attack by three USVs approaching Crimea, detected around 7:30 pm local time. “They, too, were destroyed by Black Sea Fleet helicopters.”

The intensification of Ukrainian naval strikes also comes amid developments on the land front, after leading Western media reported Russian advances in and around Kharkiv, and Ukrainian “pullbacks” from the city. The Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) undertaking sea, air drones, ALCM and long-range ATACMS fires comes amid this backdrop. As we noted in a previous report, Ukraine actually aims to weaken Russia’s hold over Crimea and make it “untenable,” instead of outrightly displacing it.

Russian and Ukrainian Strategies

Posts by leading Russian ‘milbloggers’ on Telegram, say Ukraine is calculating Russia to pull back many of its leading air defense systems like the S-400 and frontline fighter aircraft to other bases, clearing the air for Ukraine. This would make way for larger, direct, well coordinated attacks on Crimea.

Discussions on many of these groups therefore suggest the RuMoD is delinking Crimean, BSF and the main land theaters (north, northeastern and southern Ukraine). The key for the Russian General Staff would be to conduct the war in a way where assets and formations of the two geographically contiguous theaters are not shifted to support the other, since that would weaken the one lending its resources.

At a strategic level, the manner of Russia’s progress on land indicates that its gains in seizing more territory disallow Ukraine to capitalize on its tactical scores in the Black Sea. So far, this defensive posture in Crimea, Black Sea and offensive posture on land have been benefited by a steady production of capital weapons like artillery, tanks and combat aircraft.

About Parth Satam
Parth Satam's career spans a decade and a half between two dailies and two defense publications. He believes war, as a human activity, has causes and results that go far beyond which missile and jet flies the fastest. He therefore loves analyzing military affairs at their intersection with foreign policy, economics, technology, society and history. The body of his work spans the entire breadth from defense aerospace, tactics, military doctrine and theory, personnel issues, West Asian, Eurasian affairs, the energy sector and Space.