Mass drone attack on Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet

The Russian Navy Natya-class minesweeper Ivan Golubets (Photo: Russian Ministry of Defence)

On Saturday, October 29, warships of the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet at the naval base in Sebastopol in the Crimea came under attack from simultaneous waves of unmanned surface vehicles (USV) and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). Local commentators subsequently identified the USVs as being converted personal watercraft fitted with explosive warheads and commercially-available surveillance and remote control equipment.

Ukrainian authorities claimed responsibility for the attack, but have released little information.

The attack was only partially successful, with the Russians, who might have been anticipating such an assault, apparently mounting a reasonably effective defence. Unverified but largely plausible video footage shows USVs under heavy machine gun fire, surface-to-air missiles being launched, and a helicopter-launched projectile hitting a target in the sea.

Russian claims that nine USVs and seven UAVs were destroyed are probably an exaggeration, however. Russian and some East European media reports implicated the UK Royal Navy in the attack despite not providing evidence of it.

Analysis of a large number of reports indicates that the frigate Admiral Makarov and the minesweeper Ivan Golubets were damaged. The extent of damage is unclear, though both vessels remain afloat.

This was the first reported mass attack on warships by offensively-equipped unmanned vehicles. It provided a pointer to the future and has obvious long-term implications for naval strategy.

Trevor Hollingsbee

Trevor Hollingsbee was a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy and Senior Superintendent with the Hong Kong Marine Police. He is Baird Maritime's resident maritime security expert and columnist.