Mysterious Uncrewed Vessel Washes Up in Russian-Occupied Crimea

Capt N / Twitter

Published Sep 21, 2022 3:26 PM by The Maritime Executive

At least one and possibly two uncrewed surface vessels have been discovered on a rocky shoreline outside the Russian Navy stronghold of Sevastopol, Crimea. 

The black craft appears to be an improvised product, and it is fitted with an electro-optical camera, a laser rangefinder, and two steel protrusions on the bow which could be detonators or contactors for an explosive device. A flat panel mounted on the stern may be a satellite antenna for a remote-control uplink, analysts suggest. The bow is marked with the characters "4 5 VZNSI."

Remote-controlled "bomb boats" have figured prominently in the civil war in Yemen, where Houthi insurgents have used Iranian-supplied components to build uncrewed suicide craft to attack Saudi shipping. One such device successfully hit and damaged the Royal Saudi Navy frigate Al-Madinah in 2017. 

However, the craft recovered Wednesday would be the first reported appearance of such a device in the war in Ukraine. 

Russian social media posts suggest that two of the unusual vessels may have been recovered from the beach. Photos published the same day show an explosion off the coast, possibly indicating a controlled detonation of a USV craft. 

Russian Navy pulls back from Sevastopol

The Russian Navy has pulled its attack submarines out of Sevastopol and relocated them to its base in Novorossyisk, about 170 nm to the east, according to UK intelligence. Ukrainian forces have staged successful strikes on Russian assets in Crimea over the past month, including a large-scale attack on a Russian naval airbase and several drone strikes on the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet.

"[The relocation] is highly likely due to the recent change in the local security threat level in the face of increased Ukrainian long-range strike capability," wrote UK Defence Intelligence in an update Tuesday. 

The agency noted a minor irony of the conflict: guaranteeing base security for the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastpol was likely part of Russian President Vladimir Putin's reasons for annexing Crimea in 2014; the new invasion of Ukraine which began in February has reduced base security. Russian Navy surface vessels have come under fire multiple times in the northwestern Black Sea, including the fleet flagship Moskva, which was struck and sunk by two Ukrainian anti-ship missiles in April.