Sea Drones and the Russia-Ukraine War

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While aerial drones have been extensively used throughout the Russian-Ukrainian war, the emerging sea drone technology may change this war and maybe even the future of naval warfare.

Sea drones, also called drone boats, drone ships, and uncrewed surface vessels (USVs) are small, unmanned vessels that operate on or below the water’s surface, come in all shapes and sizes, and are used for a variety of tasks. They can be used for various military purposes like clearing mines, carrying out surveillance, or detonating near targets like enemy ships.

According to BBC News, common sea drone features include built-in explosives and cameras that beam back images to the person controlling it. Long-range targets are typically pre-programmed into the drones when launched, after which they are guided remotely by a human as they close in on the target.

It is currently not known how many sea drones each side of the conflict holds, or how much they cost, but one drone publicized by the Ukrainian government reportedly costs $250,000, which would be cheaper than many types of long-range missiles.

BBC research claims Ukraine has carried out at least 13 attacks with sea drones in which they targeted military ships, Russia’s naval base in Sevastopol, and Novorossiysk harbor, which Ukrainian defense sources have told CNN that sea drones were also used in an attack on the Kerch Bridge in July.

Footage from May 2023 suggests that these sea drones can travel long distances- the footage shows drone ships approaching a Russian intelligence-gathering ship called the Ivan Khurs, which seemed to take place around 193km from the Ukrainian coast.

When it comes to the impact of sea drones on the war, Ukraine’s deployment of relatively low-cost sea drones marks a new era for naval warfare, with some analysts claiming that this tactic poses an increasing risk to Russia.

Another major advantage of sea drones is that they are harder to detect on radar since they travel low on the water and make less noise than naval vessels.

Despite not having a substantial navy, Ukraine’s sea drones have managed to stop Russia from taking full control of the Black Sea. This new strategy has definitely caught international attention and is pushing other navies to develop similar systems.