(MENAFN- Asia Times) While Western pundits have warned that Ukraine's prospects for a successful counteroffensive are bleak and that hopes of retaking Crimea have been dashed, Ukraine's marine drones have consistently outmaneuvered the once-dominant Russian Navy, pushing it into retreat at sea.
Ukraine's rising marine drone capabilities are still evolving, but as they advance, many expect more aggressive strikes against Russian naval assets in Crimea and across the Black Sea region as the war grinds ahead.
At the outset of Russia's full-scale invasion in early March 2022, the Ukrainian Navy sank its own flagship frigate, the seasoned Hetman Sahaidachny , to prevent its seizure. That left Ukraine with only a handful of riverine patrol vessels to engage Russia on the open sea.
Russia, on the other hand, had its full Black Sea Fleet at its disposal, including ships captured and reflagged from the Ukrainian Navy when Russia invaded and annexed Crimea. Ukraine lost over 80% of its naval capabilities in the 2014 Crimea invasion.
Despite boasting the world's second-largest navy, over the past year Russia has been forced to relocate much of its Black Sea Fleet, including all its Kilo-class submarines, from Sevastopol in occupied Crimea to Novorossiysk farther east on the Black Sea coast in Russia – more than 570 kilometers away from Odesa and other targets in Ukraine.
In May 2023, a Ukrainian maritime drone struck the Russian reconnaissance vessel Ivan Khuprirs in the Black Sea. Russia asserted it had succeeded in repelling that attack, but in June 2023 Ukraine intensified its offensive, deploying six remote-controlled maritime drones to target the Russian intelligence vessel Priazovye , approximately 300 kilometers from Sevastopol, challenging Russian naval dominance beyond Crimea.
Ukraine's growing maritime abilities were once again underlined when its maritime drones incapacitated a Russian warship and an oil tanker in early August this year.
Former US Navy Admiral James George Stavridis remarked after the attacks,“We're at a juncture in military evolution akin to the game-changers like Agincourt or Pearl Harbor. Expensive manned surface warships now face existential threats from affordable drones.”
Oleksiy Danilov , secretary of Ukraine's Security and Defense Council, said that“with each new combat mission, Ukrainian combat UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) and maritime drones become more accurate, operators more experienced, combat coordination more effective – and manufacturers get the opportunity to improve tactical and technical characteristics.”
Image reportedly showing the moment the Russian tanker SIG was hit by a Ukrainian sea drone. Photo: Twitter
During the August attack, the Russian oil tanker“SIG ,” built in 2014 with a 5,000-ton capacity, was targeted with 450 kilograms of TNT while ferrying fuel for the Russian military. This tanker was integral to fueling Russian operations in Syria and was under US sanctions.
Ukraine's maritime drones are changing the complexion of the war by forcing Russia to commit more resources to protect the ports, warships and cargo ships it uses to transport weapons, fuel and other military supplies.
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