Kyiv deploys USVs with mini-MLRS to target the Black Sea fleet

Ukraine’s Navy is now enhancing its unmanned boats with a range of long-distance weaponry. This step comes after observing their effective use in previous attacks on Russian vessels and the Crimean Bridge. Already, new models of Ukrainian unmanned surface vehicles are in development. 

Kyiv deploys USVs with mini-MLRS to target the Black Sea fleet
Photo credit: Top War

Just as discussions began about Ukrainian naval drones armed with P-73 anti-aircraft missiles, news surfaced that these unmanned boats would be equipped with salvo launch missile systems. This isn’t a mere rumor; Ukraine started testing these systems as early as winter. 

Oleh Bratchuk, former spokesman for the Odesa Regional Military Administration, noted that the SBU’s Sea Baby unmanned boats are now being fitted with mini-MLRS [Multiple Launch Rocket Systems]. These boats were seen with several rocket launchers mounted on their hulls. 

Kyiv deploys USVs with mini-MLRS to target the Black Sea fleet
Photo credit: Top War

The exact results of these tests are still unknown, but Bratchuk described them as “very powerful.” Whether this holds true, these upgraded Sea Babies have yet to demonstrate their capabilities at sea, as all tests thus far seem to have been conducted on land based on the available photos. 

Previously, it was noted that due to the absence of a conventional force and the necessity to carry out diversionary maneuvers against Russian vessels and the Crimean Bridge, Kyiv has turned to unmanned boats. These boats have shown considerable efficiency against Black Sea Fleet ships in open waters. Yet, the presence of various barriers has made these efforts futile. 

The introduction of new MLRS seems aimed at mitigating the challenges of accessing secured sea areas. Even if penetration is not achieved, at least there can be offensive strikes. The effectiveness of these new weapons will reveal itself with time.

Bold naval encounter: Ka-29 chases Ukrainian USV with Archer IR AAM
Video screenshot / Twitter

Recently, images surfaced online showing a Russian Ka-29 helicopter approaching a Ukrainian USV armed with an R-73 infrared-guided air-to-air missile. 

It’s intriguing to note that the R-73 [AA-11 Archer], usually mounted on fighter jets, was attached to a static launcher on the USV. An empty slot was also observed. The rationale for equipping a USV with an air-to-air missile is still ambiguous, sparking two potential theories. 

One compelling theory posits that Unmanned Surface Vehicles [USVs] could be leveraged to ambush unsuspecting aircraft at sea. Reflecting on Cold War tactics, doubling up on air-to-air missiles proved proficient for tracking and downing aircraft over vast ocean expanses. Utilizing missiles in this manner would be groundbreaking, signifying the debut of USVs in an air defense capacity.

Bold naval encounter: Ka-29 chases Ukrainian USV with Archer IR AAM
Photo credit: Ukrainian MoD

Another intriguing hypothesis suggests that USVs might employ R-73 missiles to target small surface vessels by detecting their heat signatures. Re-calibrating infrared-guided air-to-air missiles to track surface targets is entirely feasible. The U.S.-made AIM-9X Sidewinder, comparable to the R-73, demonstrated this capability when it successfully hit a small boat after a simple software adjustment.

2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine

On February 21, 2022, Russia stated that its border facility was attacked by Ukrainian forces, resulting in the deaths of five Ukrainian fighters. However, Ukraine quickly dismissed these allegations, labeling them as ‘false flags’.

India intends to produce the Vympel R-73E missile for MiG-29/Su-30
Photo credit: Rosoboronexport

In a notable move on the same day, Russia announced it officially recognized the self-proclaimed areas of DPR and LPR. Interestingly, according to Russian President Putin, this recognition covered all the Ukrainian regions. Following this declaration, Putin sent a battalion of Russia’s military forces, tanks included, into these areas.

Fast forward to February 24, 2022, global headlines were dominated by a significant incident. Putin commanded a forceful military assault on Ukraine. Led by Russia’s impressive Armed Forces positioned at the Ukrainian border, this assault wasn’t spontaneous but a premeditated action. Despite the circumstances resembling a war, the Russian government refrains from using this term. They’d rather refer to it as a “special military operation”.

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