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Video: Ukraine Has Built a Drone Boat That Can Launch Rockets

Ukraine drone
Courtesy SSU

Published May 22, 2024 8:29 PM by The Maritime Executive

Ukraine's navy and internal security service (SSU) appear to have taken another step forward in the development of their combat drone boat program. In its original configuration, Ukraine's "Sea Baby" boat pioneered a new method of unmanned naval warfare, bringing one-way attack vessels to the battlespace at unprecedented scale. Recent videos released by the Russian ministry of defense show that Ukraine has also experimented with the addition of short-range surface-to-air missiles, which could be useful in fending off or attacking Russian helicopters. This week, new photos and videos released by the Ukrainian military show drone-boat models fitted with Grad unguided rocket launchers, which would give the USVs the potential to strike at a distance - if the system is accurate enough.  

Courtesy SSU

The Grad ("Hail") is a 122 mm multiple rocket launcher developed by the Soviet Union in the early 1960s. In the original truck-mounted configuration, these unguided rockets are launched by the dozens in order to blanket an area. Soviet planners prioritized simplicity, cost-effectiveness and volume over accuracy for this system, and it has found a use in countless conflicts around the globe - and is used by both sides in Ukraine. The rocket and its launcher have been widely copied and repurposed, and upgraded variants are still in production in multiple countries worldwide. It has been re-mounted in countless experimental arrangements, though this appears to be the first time that a Grad launcher has been installed on an unmanned vessel (and perhaps the first time that any rocket system has been used in combat by an unmanned vessel). 

"The SSU Sea Baby marine drones, for which Ukrainians raised funds through the UNITED24 platform, are now equipped with Grad systems and are already actively destroying the Russian invaders," the SSU told Ukrainian news outlet Suspilne. According to Kyiv Independent, the first operation involving the modified drone boats occurred at the Kinburn Spit, a long peninsula at the northwestern tip of Russian-occupied Crimea. Footage released by Ukrainska Pravda in January appeared to show a similar system in operation against Russian surface vessels. 

The effectiveness of the system could not be immediately verified, as Ukraine has not released evidence of the unguided projectiles hitting a target. However, it does align with previous SSU plans to separate out and scale down all the functions of a traditional surface fleet to fit on drone boat platforms. "A swarm of drones, which will include anti-aircraft drones, kamikaze drones, drones with guns, and so on, can solve the issue of the fleet in a completely different way," an SSU general told Ukrainska Pravda in January.