Russian naval ships struck by exploding drone boats in the night sank to the bottom of the Black Sea, Ukraine says

  • Ukraine says its sea drones hit and sank two Russian Black Sea Fleet landing ships.

  • Video footage released by Ukraine shows the attack and its explosive aftermath in occupied Crimea.

  • Ukraine has relied on its fleet of explosive drone boats to trouble Russian ships in the Black Sea.

Ukraine's explosive sea drones have struck again, and this time, Kyiv says they struck and sank two ships belonging to Russia's Black Sea Fleet (BSF).

The incident, captured on video released by Ukraine's military intelligence agency, is just the latest example of Ukraine's skillful use of unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) to target the Russian navy in the Black Sea. It suggests the drone boats continue to be useful for going after naval assets and hints at Russia's inability to adapt to what is clearly a persistent and consequential problem.

Ukraine released footage on Friday showing what it says were two naval drone attacks against Russian BSF landing ships, one a Serna-class vessel and the other an older Ondatra-class vessel, at a port on the occupied Crimean peninsula. It first posted the video on Telegram before it was shared on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, by other sources.

The footage, filmed by the drone boats during the nighttime operation shows one USV navigating Black Sea waters before making a hard right towards what appears to be a Russian ship. Then, the video cuts to a different angle, likely the other drone boat, showing an explosion in the water. The other USV then drives to another vessel, hitting it. The end of the video shows what appears to be a ship on fire in the water.

After the video was shared, Ukraine posted a satellite image on Telegram of the docking area where it says the Russian landing vessels were in the Uzka Bay, noting that the drone boats sank both of the ships. One, it says, sank "immediately," while the other "unsuccessfully fought" before later sinking as well.

The satellite image of the drone boat attack shared by Ukraine.
Ukraine says its drone boats hit and sunk both landing crafts.Defense Ministry of Ukraine

Russia's defense ministry has not released any statements describing the condition of either vessel. Insider is unable to independently verify the footage or Ukraine's claims that it sank the two ships.

Ukraine has relied on its fleet of remotely-piloted sea drones to wreak havoc on Russia's Black Sea Fleet since late last year, and it carried out two major attacks with the systems in early August. One targeted the landing ship Olenegorsky Gornyak near the port city of Novorossiysk, and another hit the Russian merchant tanker Sig near the Kerch Strait.

Experts hail the cheap and explosive as an "asymmetric advantage" for Ukraine against Russia, which has constantly fallen victim to the weapons. Officials in Kyiv have sought the development of what they refer to as "the formation of the world's first naval fleet of drones."

The sea drones are one way that Ukraine, which lacks a significant naval fleet of its own, has found success against the Russian navy in the Black Sea. Kyiv's military has also relied on its small but formidable stockpile of Western-made cruise missiles, like the Storm Shadow/SCALP-EG, to blast vulnerable and high-profile BSF targets in Crimea.

A Ukrainian surface drone called "Sea Baby."
A Ukrainian surface drone called "Sea Baby."Screengrab via the Security Service of Ukraine Telegram

Most recently, Ukraine turned to its arsenal of long-range SCALP-EGs to strike a brand new Russian corvette at a shipyard in Crimea. War analysts later said that the attack will likely take the vessel, which hasn't even been commissioned yet, out of action for the foreseeable future. The hit has again raised questions about Russia's ability to protect its Black Sea Fleet from Ukraine.

"Ukrainian forces have conducted an interdiction campaign against Russian military infrastructure in occupied Crimea, primarily BSF assets, since June 2023 to degrade the Russian military's ability to use Crimea as a staging and rear area for Russian operations in southern Ukraine," analysts at the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, wrote in a Tuesday assessment.

Elsewhere in the Black Sea this week, a Russian anti-radar missile slammed into a Liberian-flagged cargo ship, killing one person and injuring four more. The deadly attack comes several months after Moscow threatened to treat all vessels in the region as potential carriers of military cargo.

Britain's defense ministry said in a Friday intelligence update that the Russian missile was "likely" trying to target Ukrainian military radars and might have locked onto the ship's radar by accident. "If so, this would demonstrate poor weapons employment tactics on behalf of the Russian" operators, the UK said.

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