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A Ukrainian floating drone that is devastating Russia's Black Sea fleet can now fire missiles

A Ukrainian surface drone called "Sea Baby."
A Ukrainian surface drone called "Sea Baby."Screengrab via the Security Service of Ukraine Telegram
  • Ukraine has used sea drones to attack Russia's Black Sea fleet.

  • It's now able to fit them with missiles enabling them to fire at ships, it says.

  • Ukraine has had to improvise to offset Russia's naval superiority.

Ukraine claims it has fitted the floating drones it is using to devastate Russia's Black Sea fleet with missile launchers, making them even more deadly.

Ukraine's intelligence service, the SBU, in early January released grainy video footage which it claimed showed its "Sea Baby" drones firing missiles at Russian vessels.

According to the Ukrainska Pravda, Russian ships had left a port near Sevastopol in occupied Crimea to sink the drones after an attack — but instead of seeking to outpace them, the drones turned back and fired missiles at the Russian vessels.

It's unclear exactly when the incident took place, or what kind of rockets were used.

The SBU confirmed the authenticity of the video to Business Insider.

It's not the only enhancement Ukraine has made to the devices, the report said, with the drones now fitted with up to 850 kilograms of explosives, flamethrowers, $300,000 worth of communications equipment, and material designed to evade radars.

Throughout its two-year-long battle to repel the Russian invasion, Ukraine has had to resort to improvisation and ingenuity to offset Russia's military and manpower advantages.

One of its most striking successes in 2023 has been inflicting a series of devastating attacks on Russia's Black Sea fleet, despite its navy being a fraction of the size of Russia's.

The sea drones, or unmanned surface vehicles (USVs), it's developed have been vital to the success of the attacks, with the remote-controlled devices used to surveil Russian naval bases and launch attacks on ships by being fitted with explosives.

The drones "have provided Ukraine's nearly non-existent navy with an asymmetric capability to challenge Russia's larger and more capable Black Sea Fleet," Nicholas Johnson, a naval warfare expert with the RAND Corporation, told Business Insider.

"Ukraine's employment of these small explosive vessels has imposed Russian losses and shown operational impacts on their ability to wage war."

The drones are built using components that are readily available, are much cheaper than missiles, and don't need a crew to operate them, notes security expert Wes O'Donnell.

They were invented by Ukrainian security services and used in an attack on the Kerch Strait bridge last July which seriously damaged it.

The drones were used for the first time ever in a naval attack in October 2022, when Ukraine attacked Russian naval vessels docked in Sevastopol, and according to the BBC have been used in around 13 attacks since.

Their capacity to strike Russia's fleet in its own naval bases has challenged Russia's dominance of the Black Sea, forcing it to move ships away from Sevastopol to evade attacks, said Johnson.

Vasyl Maliuk, who leads the SBU, told CNN last year that the drones are built without private sector involvement in a secret underground base and are continually being modified and improved on.

Johnson said that fitting the vessels with rocket launchers massively increased the type of targets they could attack.

"This modification would also allow USVs to hold a wider range of assets at risk, potentially including targets ashore, small boats, or even employing surface-to-air missiles to target aircraft," he said. "By utilizing joint salvos of missiles from USVs in addition to aircraft and ground launchers, Ukraine could leverage multiple axis of attack further complicating Russia's air defense picture."

However, they come with some drawbacks. Interruptions to the camera feed can make them difficult to control, and they can go off course, with a drone found washed up ashore near Sevastopol in September 2022 and seized by Russia, reports say.

Johnson told BI that the vessels are vulnerable to air or boat attacks, and their signals can be scrambled by electronic-warfare units, meaning they can be cut off from their controllers.

And recent adaptations, such as fitting them with expensive missiles, mean they are no longer just a relatively cheap way of launching mass attacks on Russian ships, but would have to be used more carefully, he said.

Read the original article on Business Insider