Ukraine has used both military and consumer UAVs with maximum effect in defending itself from invading Russian forces, and now it’s seeking to replicate that effectiveness at sea by creating a fleet of naval drones, or uncrewed surface vessels (USV).
Ukraine revealed its intention to assemble 100 of the naval drones over the weekend, as it launched a dedicated crowdfunding campaign on the United24 page created to attract international support for the nation’s defense. That appeal was accompanied with specs of the craft, as well as official confirmation that similar USVs had been deployed in the October 29 combined aerial and sea strike on Russia’s Black Sea fleet.
Three Russian vessels were reportedly damaged by naval drones during Ukraine’s attack, including the flagship Admiral Makarov. Video footage on United24’s USV fundraising page shows footage – presumably from participating craft – as they dodge fire and speed toward their targets.
Accompanying text describes why the push to create the remotely piloted fleet of marine uncrewed vessels is critical to Ukraine’s defense.
“Since February 24, the Russian army has launched more than 4,500 missiles at Ukraine, 20% of them came from the sea,” the appeal reads. “Ukraine had nothing to oppose these ships, because the Ukrainian fleet lost 80% of its vessels after the occupation of Crimea in 2014. But, on October 29, 2022, naval drones hit Russian ships, (an attack that) was carried out exclusively by unmanned devices.
“The result of this daring operation was incredible – Russia has lost its undeniable advantage on the water,” it continues. “The killers of Ukrainian civilians — warships armed with missiles — became targets themselves.”
United24’s Twitter feed had previously noted Ukraine’s intention of creating the fleet of naval drones, and had even applauded early donor nations that had provided funds for at least two of the craft. But Sunday’s official launch included photos and a video of the USVs, as well as details about them.
The site said the USVs measure 5.5 meters in length, have an operational radius of 400 km, and a maximum range of 800 km. The remote-controlled vessels are autonomous for up to 60 hours, can reach speeds of 80 km/h, and have combat payload capacities of 200 kg. They deliver operators high-definition 3D video feeds, carry night vision tech, as well as inertial and visual navigation options in GPS-denied situations.
United24 also noted each naval drone built for Ukraine’s fleet will cost the nation $250,000, which would presumably make the crowdfunding campaign supporting the effort the largest ever if fulfilled.
In addition to naval defense operations intended to protect Ukraine civilians from sea-launched Russian missile and drone strikes, the USVs are to be deployed for “escorting and supporting the traditional fleet, convoying merchant ships, zoning in artillery fire, defending (Ukraine) bases, and countering amphibious operations.”