Ukrainian TB2 attacks on Russian vessels may mark a first in naval warfare
According to a video released by the country's MoD on 2 May 2022, Ukraine's Bayraktar TB2 uncrewed combat air vehicles (UCAVs) hit two Russian Raptor-class (Project 03160) patrol boats near Snake Island, which Moscow seized at the beginning of the war.
'Two Russian Raptor boats were destroyed at dawn today near Snake Island,' Ukraine's defence ministry said in a statement distributed on social media.
The video shows that the first boat was stationary when the TB2 attacked, while the second was cruising at high speed. The video does not show the condition of the boats after the engagement, so it is not possible to make an accurate battle damage assessment. However, it seems likely that the boats were at least neutralised.
The TB2's role in the Russo-Ukrainian war has already been heavily publicised. However, this incident differs from previous attacks in that it is the first real use of drones against a surface combatant in naval warfare. While several navies have already been using UAS for reconnaissance, intelligence or targeting, this is the first known instance of an armed attack.
Although TB2s have hit moving land targets in previous conflicts, this incident also showed the efficiency of the MAM-L smart munition in maritime conditions.
Another important aspect is that Ukraine is still able to fly drones over the Black Sea, which is believed to be dominated by Russian forces. With Russia unable to control the airspace, the boats, with limited air defence capabilities, were vulnerable.
The MAM-L munition used in the attacks has a range of around 15km. (Photo: Baykar)
Although the video shows the drones attacking the Raptor-class boats at a range of about 7km, the maximum effective range of the MAM -L is about 15km. As a result, the Russian Black Sea Fleet appears to have lost two more ships before recovering from the shock of the sinking of its flagship, the cruiser Moskva.
The MAM-L munition could be considered an easy target for sophisticated air defence systems because it lacks an engine and relies solely on the laser beam from the source to manoeuvre; however, it is a small object that is difficult to track using air defence radars.
The Turkish Navy has been using UAVs for some years, and has been conducting live-fire exercises with TB2 and Aksungur UCAVs against coastal and marine targets since last year.
Turkish defence companies have been developing new and more capable drones as well as expanding their weapon portfolio. For example, Turkey's most advanced UCAV, Akinci, will be able to fire stand-off missiles (SOM-A) from a long distance, far away from the air defence umbrellas of many surface combatants, and Roketsan recently introduced the new IIR-guided Cakir missile, which will be launched from UAVs and USVs.
Given the ASW capabilities of the Aksungur, which will be enhanced with sonobuoys, it is fair to assume that the CONOPS of unmanned systems in naval warfare are evolving rapidly.
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