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Ukraine Shrinks its Suicide Drones to Match Smaller Russian Targets

Stalker 5.0
The new Stalker 5.0 on display in Kyiv (Colonel Gsh / Armed Forces of Ukraine)

Published Jun 19, 2024 9:35 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Ukrainian armed forces have struggled to keep back the Russian Army on the battlefront, but they have nearly banished the Russian Navy from their shores, thanks to a steady barrage of high-tech surface drone and missile attacks. To some observers, the Black Sea drone wars are reshaping the nature of naval warfare in real-time, and Ukraine continues to refine its designs. The latest model appears to be calibrated to the new reality in the northwestern Black Sea, where the only military targets left on the surface are smaller vessels. 

The best-known drones in Ukrainian service are the "Sea Baby" and the Magura V5, speedboat-sized suicide drones built for carrying antiship payloads to the far side of the Black Sea. These are capable of sinking full-size Russian warships, like the landing ship Caesar Kunikov, which went down after multiple bomb boat hits in February. 

At about $250,000 per unit, these suicide drones are inexpensive when compared to a $1-3 million antiship missile, and they have far more range. But as Russia withdraws more and more of its surface ships to safer waters in the eastern Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, Ukraine's surface drones have had to start hunting smaller targets, like patrol boats and tugs

The newest drone model, the Stalker 5.0, is slimmer and shorter than its predecessors, with a smaller payload and much less range - optimized for smaller, less valuable Russian targets. It shows clear signs of value engineering: instead of fiberglass, the hull appears to be constructed out of sheets of black plastic, a low-cost and easy-to-fabricate material. Instead of an inboard motor and waterjet, it has an off-the-shelf outboard motor. Local media outlets have reported that the drone's unit price comes to just $60,000, roughly a fifth of the price of a Magura V5. 

"This is such a cheap [drone boat] that you can dream about [targeting] everything that comes out of the ports without sparing money (pilot boats, tugboats, rescue vessels, divers' boats and sea excursions)," commented one Ukrainian officer who attended the unveiling. 

The design is fitted with multiple hatches, and it can be used for supply delivery missions or ISR patrols as well, according to Ukrainian media.