From the spark that was Nikolai Tesla wowing the crowds of New York’s Madison Square Garden with his four-foot long, steel-hulled, radio-controlled boat (patented in 1898) and his follow-on “dirigible wireless torpedo,” we are now going on 125 years of unmanned surface and subsurface vehicles, with an easy bent towards using them in warfare.
With stops at the German Fernlenkboot (FL) of the Great War and the Italian Motoscafo da Turismo (MTS) unmanned explosive motorboats of WWII, today’s maritime lingering/loitering USV munition has been well proven in the Black Sea.
Following up on the dramatic attack late last month on the Russian 4,000-ton Admiral Grigorovich-class frigate Admiral Makarov and smaller Natya-class minesweeper Ivan Golubets by Ukrainian USVs more information on these “killer kayaks” have surfaced including an excellent photo essay that has popped up on Reddit of no less than a half-dozen of these little black boats under construction and testing, including design details and the mix of commercial-off-the-shelf components and local supplies (Rotax 3-cylinder engines from a Canadian Sea Doo jet ski– which only run about $2-3K each— a Starlink receiver, old Warsaw Pact-era contact exploders, et. al).
Like Tesla’s boat, they are low-lying and relatively deep of hull for stability
Note they appear to be arranged on portable launching cradles that can be reused.
H.I. Sutton over at Covert Shores, who has been covering these boats since the beginning, has compiled this rough specs list for these crafts which reportedly cost a bargain of just $250K each (as opposed to an MK-48 Mod6 torpedo which runs $10m in its current format):
Length: 5.5 meters
Full weight: up to 1,000 kg
Operational radius: up to 400 km
Range: up to 430 NM (800 km)
Autonomy: up to 60 hours
Combat load: up to 200 kg
Max speed: 43 knots (80 km/h)
Navigation methods: automatic GNSS, inertial, visual
Video transmission: up to 3 HD video streams
Crypto protection: 256-bit encryption
Odds are, Tesla can feel the connection.
Although the Russians by far outstripped Ukraine’s naval forces (which were mostly coast guard in nature) at the outset of the war in February, the smaller country has proved an underdog with a lot of bites when it comes to littoral operations. Besides sinking the 14 April 2022 sinking of the cruiser Moskva and a handful of other incidents, the Ukrainians keep slugging away.
Russia’s current Black Sea flagship vessel, the relatively newly commissioned 4,000-ton Admiral Grigorovich-class frigate Admiral Makarov, was damaged and possibly disabled during an audacious Ukrainian drone attack on Sevastopol over the weekend. The attack included a swarm of aerial drones coupled with a flotilla of small water-borne USVs. TASS reported that all the air drones had been destroyed, but it nonetheless seems Makarov is badly hurt and possibly two or three other ships damaged as well with the Russians confirming at least some problems with the Natya-class minesweeper Ivan Golubets.
The attack videos, widely available, look like something out of a Bond movie.
HI Sutton has been chronicling the Ukrainian explosive USVs over at Covert Shores for the past few months. They first popped up back in September when Russian naval forces in Sevastopol found one aground there.
They appear made of several commercial off-the-shelf components including a jet ski drive train with a contact exploder on the bow and a Starlink antenna for uplink
Via Covert Shores
While the propaganda victory to Kiev/Ky’iv is great, the Russians soon retaliated by canceling the ongoing grain shipping program from Ukraine ports to hungry third-world countries, which is kind of a bummer for places like Ethiopia and Sudan.
Still, those who are interested in anything expeditionary who are not paying attention to the great possibilities– and the great threats– that go with drones are not really paying attention.