Ukrainian Patrol Vessel Damaged in Russian Lancet Attack

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What to Know:

A video has emerged showing a Ukrainian patrol vessel being attacked by a Russian Lancet loitering munition while underway along the Dnipro river. While a single attack may not appear to be anything noteworthy, it is when considering how limited Ukraine’s manned surface fleet capabilities are.

The Attack:

The video, which is capture by a second drone likely carrying out ISR and targeting, shows a Ukrainian patrol vessel underway near the city of Mykolaiv (Geo: 46.9282, 32.0183). The angle then switches to the camera of the Lancet as it approaches the vessel before switching back to show the strike. We can tell this is a Lancet drone due to its signature “X” winglet layout. The extent of the damage remain unclear, but the drone appears to have targeted its mast, which has various communication and navigation equipment.

As for the vessel itself, it appears to be an Island-class patrol vessel, which were donated to Ukraine following service as United States Coast Guard Cutters. A total of four vessels were sent to Ukraine, which were done so before the Russian invasion. One of these vessels, the Sloviansk (formerly USCGC Cushing) was sunk by Russian forces in the opening days of the invasion. With that, Ukraine only has three left in active service.

What are Ukraine Naval Capabilities?

Ukraine lost most of its naval vessels (nearly 75%) following the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014, which resulted in the capture of the Sevastopol Naval Base. Since then, Ukraine’s naval vessels, which consisted of about two dozen ships plus auxiliary support and patrol craft, had largely been docked in Mykolaiv, Berdyansk, Mariupol, and Odessa. Since the annexation of Crimea, Ukraine had slowly attempted to rebuild its naval fighting force with help from the United States (i.e. Island-class patrol vessels), however, they were never able to make up for its losses by the time the invasion happened.

With the start of the Russian invasion in February 2022, Ukraine’s Navy found itself in a particularly difficult situation as any vessel sent to sea would face off against the entirety of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, which consisted of over 40 surface vessels, including several cruisers, frigates, and corvettes, as well as additional naval vessels from the Baltics and Mediterranean. Any Ukrainian vessel sent to sea would likely be intercepted by Russian ship-launched Kalibr cruise missiles or aircraft as Russia had established dominance over the Black Sea at the time. With that, most Ukrainian vessels remained in port, making their largest threat either missile strikes against ports or being captured by Russian ground forces.

A quote by Ukraine Navy Captain Oleksandr Surkov to France24 summed up the situation perfectly: “Our weapons are mostly designed to protect our state borders, not to wage war.” 

The opening days of the invasion saw the rapid occupation of Berdyansk, resulting in the capture of five Kalkan-class Ukrainian Sea Guard patrol boats, two Gyurza-M class gunboats, and the Sorum-class tug A830 Korets. At this time, Ukraine’s flagship vessel, the Krivak III class frigate Hetman Sahaydachniy, was intentionally scuttled in Mykolaiv to prevent capture. The siege and eventual capture of Mariupol by Russian forces in May 2022 also saw additional losses to Ukraine’s surface fleet, including the destruction of the Amur-class command ship Donbas and capture or loss of several other Sea Guard vessels.

In total, Ukraine has lost at least 30 vessels, over half of which have been captured, according to equipment loss tracker Oryxspioenkop.

Emphasis on Brown Water Operations:

Since the Fall 2022 counter offensive that saw Ukrainian forces retake the city of Kherson, the Dnipro River has become a natural divider, with Ukrainians controlling the right bank while Russian forces control the left bank. The past year has seen continuous cross-river operations by Russian and Ukrainian forces along the Dnipro. Russian forces have exclusively carried out shelling or targeted rocket/missile strikes across the river from positions along the left bank. For Ukraine, amphibious operations across the river have been frequent, leaving some areas along the left bank contested, but not under full control with aims at launching a larger offensive at this time. With this, brown water operations have been emphasized with Ukrainian forces along the Kherson front, which have have been carried out using small boats and rafts.

Ukraine Navy Augmenting Combat:

While Ukrainian naval operations are limited with their manned surface fleet, drone operations have increased in frequency, using explosive unmanned surface vessels (USV) to target the Black Sea Fleet off the coast of Crimea. Recent weeks have seen the sinking of the Project 22160 patrol ship Sergey Kotov, Ropucha-class landing vessel Caesar Kunikov, and the Molniya-class missile corvette Ivanovets around Crimea through explosive drone swarm attacks carried out using “Magura” USVs. Surface drones such as these are normally hard to detect on radar due to their low profile, meaning that detection and interception is often done by the crew with small arms fire. Recent attacks have been carried out at night, making detection even harder, with Russian crews having to rely on sound and spotlights to find the USVs before they detonate at the ship’s hull.