On the same night the Ukrainian air force struck the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s anchorage in Sevastopol, in Russian-occupied Crimea—knocking out a landing ship and a submarine—the Ukrainian navy also began hunting down the Russian fleet’s patrol ships.
In three heady days starting on Sept. 13, Ukrainian navy unmanned surface vessels reportedly attacked at least three—and potentially four—of the Black Sea Fleet’s smaller combatants.
The assault on the fleet’s patrol ships began on Sept. 14, when a flotilla of explosives-laden USVs ran down the Project 22160-class vessel Bykov in the southwestern Black Sea.
The robotic ambush on Bykov may have been simultaneous with the cruise-missile strike that wrecked the landing ship and submarine in their Sevastopol drydock. It seems Bykov was just west of Sevastopol as the cruise missiles angled in.
The Russian government claims Bykov destroyed all three attacking USVs. The Ukrainian government claimed the patrol boat was damaged in the assault; Kyiv released a video of the attack depicting Bykov shooting at the USVs from just yards away.
At the same time, USVs struck the missile corvette Samum—215-foot Project 1239 vessel—in Sevastopol harbor and inflicted “significant damage,” Ukrainian sources told Reuters.
A day later on Sept. 15, it happened again: at least one Ukrainian USV ran down the Project 22800 patrol boat Askold—22o feet long and armed with missile. “The unmanned enemy boat was destroyed by fire from the ship’s standard weapons,” the Kremlin told state propaganda organization TASS.
And if the the Ukrainian government is to be believed, there was another assault on a second Black Sea Fleet Project 22160 vessel—altogether making for USV strikes on no fewer than four Russian patrol ships over the course of three days.
It’s possible all four patrol vessels survived the recent attacks. It also is possible all four were damaged. In any event, the Ukrainian drone operation underscores the new reality for the beleagured Black Sea Fleet.
In weeks of coordinated attacks before and just after the Sept. 13 raid on Sevastopol, Ukrainian forces destroyed two of the Russians’ five S-400 air-defense batteries in Crimea and recaptured two oil platforms the Russians were using as sensor outposts in the western Black Sea.
The Black Sea Fleet is exposed. Its ships aren’t safe anywhere.
In 19 months of hard fighting with an enemy that has no major warships, the Black Sea Fleet has lost at least one cruiser, three amphibious ships, a submarine, a supply ship and several patrol boats and landing craft.
The losses surely will continue as the Ukrainians press their new naval advantage. The Black Sea Fleet has just 30 patrol vessels. If Ukraine can strike at four of them in just three days, imagine which it might do in the next 100 or 200 days.