UKR and Guerilla Naval Warfare
Ukrainian naval forces could deter or disrupt Russian Black Sea naval operations through the use of waterborne improvised explosive devices (WBIEDs).
RU warships operating in the Black Sea have launched cruise missiles against targets inside UKR, and there are indications that an amphibious assault on Odessa could be imminent.
On March 3, OSINT imagery (pictured above) indicated that several RU landing ships and escort vessels were anchored off the coast of western Crimea.
On March 8, a senior U.S. defense official indicated that as many as 11 RU tank landing ships were staging in the Black Sea.
On March 8, satellite imagery indicated the presence of landing ships, a Slava-class guided missile cruiser, and an intelligence support vessel off the coast of Snake Island.
**UPDATE** March 8, 2022#Russian warships shown off Snake Island south of Odessa, Ukraine— H I Sutton (@CovertShores) March 8, 2022
Wrote a long update for https://t.co/Qo26We6iNC but lost it all! $%$!!!
Amphibious ship may be Pr. 11711 Ivan Gren Class LST Pyotr Morgunov
Note intelligence ship. Several assets active pic.twitter.com/40h9HoALzC
- On March 10, satellite imagery confirmed that the western Crimea flotilla was still in place.
Satellite imagery from today shows that the ships spotted off the west coast of Crimea last week have largely remained there.— Brady Africk (@bradyafr) March 10, 2022
These ships are not far from the Southern Naval Base in Donuzlav Lake.
45.2730582436, 32.87890034029 https://t.co/IK9zATqiEd pic.twitter.com/50SwXfuHqd
- The flotilla remained in place as of March 13.
**UPDATE**— H I Sutton (@CovertShores) March 13, 2022
They are Back! Russian Navy landing ships staging off Crimea
Same last week but they returned to port. Threat of landings near Odessa, Ukraine, reduced
But last couple of days people have been watching them gather again. Confirm LST (landing Ships).
Nod @detresfa_ pic.twitter.com/rbdb8TM62E
- UPDATE: 15 March, 1500 UTC: A RU amphibious operation now appears to be imminent.
**BREAKING**— H I Sutton (@CovertShores) March 15, 2022
Russian Landing Ships seen heading towards Odessa, today. Now on Naval News. This is fluid, but may update as we learn more. https://t.co/ZB1oAiOThd
- A Pentagon spokesman indicated that as of March 10, there have been a total of six cruise missile launches from the Black Sea, a small fraction of the overall total of missiles fired into Ukraine, which currently numbers over 900. The proportion of surface versus submarine launched was not disclosed.
UKR has few options to deter or defend against Russian naval operations in the Black Sea.
The UKR Navy was greatly impacted by the 2014 annexation of Crimea, with many ships seized by Russian forces. What remains are largely small patrol craft, cutters, and support ships. UKR scuttled it's only frigate to prevent its capture by RU forces.
Prior to the RU invasion, a UKR-developed anti-ship missile system, Neptune, was on track to be deployed by spring of 2022. While Neptune batteries could eventually hold Russian warships at risk, it is unlikely they will be deployed in operationally relevant numbers in time to defend against a Russian amphibious operation.
(Corrected - 16 March, 1245 UTC) There were reports that UKR did employ a multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) against a seaborne target, a Russian Project 22160 corvette, the Vasily Bykov. However, this attack allegedly involved the coordinated use of manned fast boats to lure the Bykov into range of the MLRS. Such tactics would likely not be successful in future attacks.
UKR may possess a modest mine warfare capability, and circumstantial evidence suggests that UKR has deployed sea mines in the approaches to Odessa and possibly delayed a RU amphibious assault.
- On March 1, AIS data via MarineTraffic indicated several sorties of UKR tugs off the coast of Odessa.
An Estonian cargo ship, the Helt, was sunk off the coast of Odessa after allegedly striking a sea mine. Vague media reports indicated that the Helt had been commandeered and used by RU forces as a "shield" of some kind, however the vessel had been at anchor when seized and then driven into a "danger zone," suggesting that the vessel had possibly been forced into service as a minesweeper with a mission to identify the presence of a UKR minefield, or perhaps to carve a channel.
RU mine clearance operations could be underway using unmanned systems or manned minesweepers. However, there has been no open source imagery, or reports of explosions in the Black Sea which would suggest that mines were being detonated via RU influence sweeps or the use of explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) teams.
UPDATE: 15 March, 2228 UTC - Satellite imagery indicates that RU minesweeping operations are underway.
**UPDATE**— H I Sutton (@CovertShores) March 15, 2022
Further to the story of the Russian Navy warships seen approaching Odessa earlier today -> https://t.co/ZB1oAiOThd
Closer examination reveals clear signs that the lead vessel of the column of landing ships was acting as a minesweeper, towing a sweeping device. pic.twitter.com/aCr5eOK8QK
Given its limited conventional sea denial capability, UKR could resort to unconventional naval tactics, such as commandeering civilian watercraft and converting them into WBIEDs to attack RU warships.
WBIEDs are small surface vessels, manned or unmanned, that are fitted with a shaped charge of high explosive and used to target high value maritime and naval targets.
WBIEDs have been used by terrorist organizations with devastating effect. Two notable WBIED attacks are the 2000, manned al-Qaeda WBIED attack on the U.S. guided missile destroyer, USS Cole (DDG-67), while she was anchored in the Port of Aden, resulting in the deaths of 17 sailors more than 30 injured, and the 2017 Houthi attack on the Saudi frigate Al Madinah which involved an unmanned, remotely controlled WBIED, and resulted in the deaths of two Saudi sailors and three injured. Both ships sustained significant damage during the attacks, rendering them mission kills.
#US presentation finally reveals the extent of damage to #SaudiArabia frigate "Al Madinah" from Jan 30 #Yemen #Houthi attack https://t.co/lLltOxhZ6U pic.twitter.com/HvMfs9bar4— Joseph Dempsey (@JosephHDempsey) December 15, 2017
- Numerous civilian powerboats and yachts are docked or in storage at marinas and yacht clubs dotting the coast of the Black Sea.
With UKR supply lines increasingly coming under attack, and with a RU amphibious assault now imminent, UKR likely cannot acquire and the necessary technologies needed to convert civilian powerboats into remotely controlled USVs.
Modern powerboats and yachts, however, are equipped with onboard integrated waypoint navigation - essentially an autopilot feature that enables the boat to operate autonomously, transiting to preprogrammed waypoints without human intervention.
While not as precise as full remote control, if the positions of RU warships are relatively fixed, either by anchor or station keeping, it could be possible to place the boats on target using waypoint navigation.
To launch the unmanned WBIED, a pilot would calibrate the vehicle's GPS, program its speed and a waypoint located beyond the target ship, and then quickly escape to a boat operating alongside.
A coordinated, simultaneous deployment of WBIEDs from several shore points could overwhelm Russian defenses, as would targeting single ships with multiple WBIEDs.
WBIEDs could be armed with C4 or other high-powered explosive transported to the coastline via supply line from the west. Alternatively, given the high density of farms to the west of Odessa, ammonium nitrate fertilizer is widely available, which can, when combined with other elements, create a powerful explosive.
There are several factors and countermeasures that could limit the use or effectiveness of WBIEDs:
Over the past several years, Position, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) attacks such GPS jamming and AIS spoofing have occurred regularly in the Black Sea. As WBIEDs would rely on GPS for waypoint navigation, RU PNT operations would undermine or possibly neutralize their effect.
The range of a WBIED will depend on the fuel capacity of the watercraft being used. In general, the smaller the craft, the lower the range due to fuel storage constraints. The range of smaller vessels may be anywhere from 8 to 30 nautical miles, while larger cabin cruisers or yachts can operate for hundreds. Payload weight, as well as environmental factors such as wind, sea state, and weather conditions will also play a role in fuel consumption and therefore range of the vessel.
Russian surface vessels are equipped with an array of point-defense weapon systems capable of engaging small, fast moving surface targets, such as AK-257 57mm guns, the AK-620 fully automatic close-in weapon systems (CIWS), and AK-176 76mm guns.
Edited for clarity - 15 March, 2035 UTC.
Ongoing edits as events dictate.