Video Above: Drone Boats
Drone boats, anti-ship missiles and other maritime weapons appear to be helping Ukraine successfully defend its critical coastal areas along the Black Sea, something which speaks to Ukrainian ingenuity, pure determination and unwillingness to surrender.
The Pentagon says the US has provided some training on unmanned coastal defense vessels, but add that Ukraine is capable of producing its own anti-ship missiles, one of which appears to have already destroyed a Russian warship.
“They have their own ability to manufacture anti-ship cruise missiles, the Neptunes. That is a Ukrainian product and they can still produce those,” a senior Pentagon official told reporters, according to a Pentagon transcript.
Perhaps this is one key reason why Russia has not, as of yet, launched a second amphibious attack from the Black Sea, something they did at the beginning of the war.
Additionally, it seems somewhat surprising that Russian warships and submarines have not launched large numbers of long-range Kalibr submarine and ship-launched cruise missiles. Much like a Tomahawk, these Russian weapons are long-range and quite likely engineered with precision guidance.
A Tomahawk can fire from as far away as 900 miles, so it is likely these Russian weapons could attack at standoff distances, however there are anti-ship missiles with very long ranges as well, so it is possible that Ukrainian built shore-fired missiles could hold Russian ships at risk from substantial distances.
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Certainly specifics regarding the use of drone boats are unlikely to be available for security reasons, yet technology of this kind could certainly be quite impactful when it comes to defending the coastline. This would be particularly true if they had a large number of them and were able to network them as “surveillance nodes” dispersed across a wide threat envelope.
The effectiveness of these boats would seem to largely rely upon how technologically sophisticated they were. Should they have long-range EO/IR sensors, and an ability to network from beyond the radar horizon, they could certainly alert coastal defenses about any potential Russian threats from the sea.
The drones might be even more effective if they were able to actually target moving Russian ships as a forward node using some kind of data link or RF connectivity with aerial, surface or coastal Ukrainian assets.
Perhaps they could even tow sonar underwater tethered to the drones in a manner similar to how the US Navy applies them. Purely in terms of deterrence, these platforms could likely succeed in keeping Russian warships sufficiently away from the Ukrainian coast. This could also complicate Russian efforts to resupply its forces along the coastal areas where Russia is trying to establish a continuous zone of control from the Southern Coast of Ukraine up to the East in the Donbass area.
As for training, certainly the US Navy would be well positioned to have an impact, given their experience developing, equipping and manufacturing its growing fleet of drone boats. Not only has the US Navy been experiencing numerous breakthroughs when it comes to applications of autonomy and networking with Unmanned Surface Vehicles, but they are also quickly developing emerging Concepts of Operation through which to maximize their impact.
Kris Osborn is the President of Warrior Maven - Center for Military Modernization and the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.