Russia admits it can’t halt nighttime uncrewed surface vessel raids

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Night raids by unmanned Ukrainian surface vessels have become a significant issue for the Russian Black Sea Fleet. This isn’t new; we’ve seen a high success rate with these Ukrainian attacks. Russia has lost numerous ships from its Black Sea Fleet due to this tactic, which leverages the cover of night. During these hours, visibility is low, and the readiness of Russian ship crews typically isn’t as high as it is during the day.  

Photo credit: Russian MoD

This tactic’s effectiveness has even caught the attention of local Russian businesses. Denis Oslomenko, General Director of the PPSH Laboratory, remarked that Moscow is seeking thermal imaging systems to bolster the protection of its Black Sea Fleet. While these systems won’t completely stop Ukrainian surface attacks, Oslomenko believes they will significantly reduce their success rate. The PPSH Laboratory specializes in developing thermal imaging cameras, lenses, and sights. 

Currently, the Defense Forces of Ukraine use various modifications of unmanned surface kamikaze vehicles to target Russian ships. These attacks have inflicted notable damage on the Russian Black Sea Fleet, exemplifying a scenario where expensive military equipment is vulnerable to cheaper means of destruction. 

Photo credit: Russian MoD

The lack of thermal imaging

Considering that these attacks predominantly occur during nighttime, it poses a greater challenge for the Russians to counter Ukrainian kamikazes. Oslomenko underscored this issue, specifically highlighting “the problem of the lack of thermal imaging equipment among the fighters.”

He mentioned that the PPSh laboratory, in collaboration with the Black Sea Fleet, has plans to implement new capabilities: “We manufacture thermal imaging sights and sighting systems, which are currently being adapted for PKM, Kord, and all small arms used by our forces to combat drones.” 

Photo credit: Russian MoD

According to him, these devices can detect targets over a distance of more than 1 km. Additionally, Oslomenko advocates for deck watches to be equipped with thermal imaging binoculars to “alert the Russian military with machine guns” about the azimuth of approaching boats.

Machine guns vs. drones

Previously, the Russian Federation demonstrated its training exercises to fend off attacks by Ukrainian Magura V5 kamikaze surface boats in the Pacific Ocean. Over 15 ships and cutters participated in these drills, including three of the Russian Navy’s most advanced Project 20380 corvettes, notably the newest fleet member, Rezky, which was commissioned in September 2023. 

Recent footage suggests that the Russians are planning to counter drones using machine guns and assault rifles. Notably, you can spot the DShK machine gun, which has been in service since 1938, along with sailors trying to aim at targets using conventional machine guns.

Certainly, every soldier plays a role in defending the integrity of their ship. However, the puzzling part is why they use Kalashnikov assault rifles when Russian ships are equipped with advanced rapid-fire artillery systems like the AK-630? 

AK-360 30mm cannon

The AK-630 is a 30-mm automatic cannon capable of firing up to 5,000 rounds per minute. It’s integrated into a unified combat control system featuring its own radar and the Puma 5P-10 fire control system. This advanced Russian technology is designed to simultaneously track up to four targets with automated control over multiple artillery installations on the ship.

Photo credit: Russian MoD

Strikingly, in the Russian Federation’s Pacific Fleet, even the most modern ships, including four corvettes from Project 20380 delivered between 2017 and 2023—with two more expected by 2027—are being outfitted with the dated DShK machine gun. 

Additionally, the video highlights the practice of searching for marine drones using vertical takeoff and landing UAVs. It’s worth noting that on modern Russian ships, starting with corvettes, these UAVs are regularly deployed alongside Ka-27 helicopters. 

Ukrainian Magura V5 vessel

Video screenshot / Twitter

Ukraine is continually enhancing its surface drones, testing various methods to protect them from attacks. Recently, photos emerged of Magura V5 surface-to-air boats equipped with R-73 missiles, marking a historic milestone in several aspects. This instance represents the first known use of a multi-role maritime drone in combat against an enemy at sea. For context, the USA and Turkey have their own multi-purpose armed unmanned ships and cutters in development, but these have yet to be “battle-tested.” 

Moreover, the Magura V5 with the R-73 can be considered the world’s first remote-controlled air defense system, albeit intended for short-range air targets. Before this, there were no known developments of this kind globally. 

Given this context, it’s reasonable to assume that the Defense Forces of Ukraine are nearing the capability to not only conduct attacks on key targets using a “swarm” of marine kamikaze drones but also to protect these drones using multi-purpose unmanned cutters. This could potentially increase the pressure on the Russian Federation’s Black Sea navy.

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