War in Ukraine: what are the naval drones used by kyiv against Russia?

It is a weapon that the Ukrainian army has been wielding since September 2022 in the war against Russia: naval drones. On the night of Sunday July 16 to Monday July 17, the Crimean Bridge, in Russian hands, was hit by at least two explosions around three in the morning, according to Russian media. Moscow speaks of an attack against the infrastructure carried out by two surface drones and counts two dead as well as damage to the bridge.

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These naval drones, also called USV (Unmanned Surface Vehicle) are boats with no one on board. They measure on average four to five meters and navigate exclusively on the surface. The Ukrainian naval drones in question are very often boats made of sheet metal, equipped with a jet-ski engine, as described by independent military expert HI Sutton.

The machine is piloted remotely from land or sea using a satellite link. These USVs are equipped with an onboard infrared camera that allows the person controlling the drone to orient themselves, including at night.

Handy, fast, inexpensive

These “floating bombs” carry with them an explosive charge of up to 100 to 200 kilograms. They are very fast and very manoeuvrable: to escape a defense system, the pilot has the possibility of dodging with fairly quick avoidance maneuvers with reduced amplitude. These bombs are very difficult to shoot down before they hit their target. Their range depends on the engine, but they can go up to 150 to 200 nautical miles, or 277 to 370 km. To date, the Russian army does not use this type of weapon, and defends itself against it by using nets and dolphins to protect its military base in Sevastopol, in the Black Sea.

The cost of these USVs is difficult to estimate, because of the criteria to be taken into account: quality of the satellite antenna, weight of the explosive charge. However, their price, estimated at a few tens of thousands of dollars, is much less than that of a cruise missile, for example, which costs around 100,000 dollars. This is what allows Ukraine to produce a lot, without knowing exactly how much.

Destruction or reconnaissance mission

Naval drones can cause great damage if not intercepted, due to their explosive charge combined with the speed reached by the craft at the time of impact. Since September 2022, Ukraine has used these weapons dozens of times against Russian ships in the Black Sea, but never against submarines since this drone is incapable of diving.

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These “floating bombs” are used to destroy enemy buildings but can also defend targets, serve as scouts and carry out reconnaissance operations, since the machine is not just a “kamikaze”. It does not systematically explode once put into service.

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