After kamikaze drones for the army, the Ukrainian navy will receive floating systems. They could pose a threat to Russian submarines in the Black Sea. The US government has already approved several weapons packages for Ukraine, at least three of which contain drones. Initially, the Ukrainian army benefited from so-called switchblade-type loitering ammunition. Similar flying weapon systems are currently following with the Phoenix Ghost, which is intended to cause even more destruction. And floating systems are also supplied.
The drone boats are part of the €740 million security aid announced by US President Joe Biden on April 13. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told the press that they should be used to defend coastal waters off Crimea. In addition, the unmanned ships were to be used in the Sea of Azov, whose coasts - except for Mariupol - are now entirely controlled by Russia.
Mine clearance and anti-submarine warfare
Unmanned watercraft are referred to as Unmanned Surface Vehicle (USV). Several armies use them, primarily for surveillance or reconnaissance and with only light armament. The Israeli navy, for example, patrols its coasts with the Rafael minesweeper Protector. Elbit's Seagull, which is also sold abroad, should also be able to be used to locate submarines.
Despite repeated inquiries, Kirby did not want to answer which drone boats the Ukrainian military received from the USA and whether they were armed. The US Navy has the 40-meter-long catamaran Sea Hunter, which is being built by the US defense company Leidos and which is said to be able to drop underwater bombs. However, the ship is an expensive prototype that the US military probably does not want to do without.
Speedboat with camouflage properties
It is, therefore, more likely that smaller systems will be delivered, such as the Textron Common Unmanned Surface Vehicle. With a length of around ten meters, it can be used for mine clearance or surveillance. The unmanned speedboat Mantas, which Martac in Florida manufactures, is of a similar magnitude. According to the manufacturer, it should have camouflage properties.
The US Navy's smaller drone boats are also prototypes that have not yet finally arrived in everyday operation. Accordingly, their use in Ukraine also has a pilot character for the US military, which can test its unmanned systems in a war for the first time. According to US media, a senior Defense Ministry official, who wished to remain anonymous, said some Ukrainian military personnel had already been trained to use the system.
Drone warfare with a new dimension
So far, the Ukrainian military has inflicted heavy losses on the Russian army, primarily with Turkish combat drones. Other drones, including commercial ones, calibrate missile or artillery attacks. With the USVs, this drone war in Ukraine takes on a new dimension.
It is conceivable that the Ukrainian Navy wants to equip the floating unmanned systems with larger armaments or load them with explosives like kamikaze drones and steer them to the target. However, attacks such as those on the missile cruiser Moscow would probably not succeed because a drone boat travels relatively slowly and can easily be destroyed by enemy defenses.
Nevertheless, the US delivery is likely to cause uncertainty in the Russian Navy, which has undisputed sovereignty in the Black Sea with its Black Sea fleet above and below water.