The war in Ukraine has raised a paradox: kyiv has no navy but rules the waters. In two years of conflict, 20% of Russian ships deployed in the Black Sea have been damaged or destroyed. Ukraine owes this record neither to its non-existent fleet nor to the weaponry provided by the West. But to the judicious use of high-performance naval drones that it itself designed and produced. At the end of July, Kiev revealed to the public for the first time its new USV (naval suicide drone, Unmanned Surface Vehicle in English), the Magura V5, capable of carrying an explosive charge of 320 kg within a range of 800 km.

Last week, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) officially unveiled the latest addition to its fleet of naval drones: the “Sea Baby.” The first copy, named “Avdiivka”, in homage to the city of Donbass which recently fell into Russian control, has entered “a complete cycle of sea trials”, indicates the SBU. The uniqueness of this weapon lies in its financing: it was entirely paid for by Ukrainian companies, international donors and the local population via the UNITED24 fundraising platform. More than seven million euros were raised, enabling the order of 35 devices.

In reality, the “Sea Baby” has already had the opportunity to operate in the Black Sea, in an experimental version. In two years of war, his hunting list begins to expand. From October 29, 2022, these surface vehicles participated in damaging the frigate Admiral Makarov, which replaced the Moskva as flagship, the frigate Admiral Essen and the minesweeper Ivan Golubets. They also targeted and damaged the corvette Samum, the patrol boat Pavel Derzhavin and the reconnaissance ship Vladimir Kozitsky. “Sea Babies” especially participated in the second spectacular attack on the Crimean bridge, on July 17, 2023.

But the latest version of this USV is “even more deadly for the enemy,” according to the SBU. “It has improved technical characteristics, better combat skills and greater maneuverability,” says the security service. The capabilities praised by Ukraine of the “Sea Baby” seem to exceed those of the Magura V5. Capable of cutting through the sea at 90 km/h, it can carry up to a ton of explosives within a range of 1000 kilometers. It would also be equipped with Starlink terminals, Elon Musk’s Internet service provider.

According to an SBU brigadier general, the drone can even serve as “a universal platform for various weapons”, which would allow it, for example, to be equipped with anti-aircraft defense systems. On his blog, naval analyst HI Sutton points out that “tubes” have been seen on some “Sea Babies”, and could be compared to rocket or missile launchers. The site specialist even puts forward the hypothesis of a thermobaric rocket launcher, “unguided and with a range of around 1000 meters”. These capabilities could make it a reusable drone, and no longer just a kamikaze.

Since February 24, 2022, the Ukrainians have become masters in the art of naval guerrilla warfare. In total, 11 Russian ships were hit in the Black Sea, out of a total of 51 ships recently recorded by Le Figaro. In terms of tonnage, Ukraine destroyed 26,000 of the 121,000 tons deployed in the Black Sea, and damaged 13,000 others. Ukraine has also sometimes exaggerated its military exploits. In May, for example, Ukrainian media announced that they had struck a Russian intelligence vessel, the Ivan Khurs, which actually managed to destroy several Ukrainian USVs that were targeting it. There is no indication that the Russian building was damaged.

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Naval drones nevertheless play an important destabilizing role. In addition to the “Sea Baby”, Magura V5s participated in the spectacular attack on the Russian base in Sevastopol in October 2022 and in the second attack on the Crimean bridge. These surface ships also attacked and destroyed the landing ship Caesar Kunikov and the patrol boat Sergey Kotov. These weapons perfectly complement anti-ship missiles, such as the Ukrainian-designed Neptune, used to sink the Moskva. And their great advantage, apart from their stealth, lies in their cost. A latest generation “Sea Baby” costs 200,000 euros, a Magura V5, 250,000 euros. The price of an anti-ship missile can vary from 500,000 to 1.5 million euros.