The conflict between Russia and Ukraine, which has lasted more than three months, has seen more unmanned weapons technology adopted than any previous conflict.
The majority of the conversation is on unmanned aircraft (UAV), but few people realise that the presence of unmanned ships operating on the water (USV) also helps determine the battlefield situation. A unmanned surface vessel (USV) is a naval vessel that can operate remotely and with high automation. According to the US Department of Defense, both USVs were included in a recent shipment of US military aid to Ukraine, and Washington taught the Ukrainian military on how to utilise them. “Coastal defence is something Ukraine has expressed a strong interest in,” said John Kirby, press secretary for the US Defense Department. When we observe the Russians concentrating their forces in the east and south, this is an urgent need.”
“When you talk about east and south, you’re talking about the Sea of Azov, which is to the north of the Black Sea, therefore we’re hoping these unmanned vehicles will help them.” Although Russia has lost its flagship, the Moscow, the source noted that the country still has a significant naval force.
Although the US has not specified the type or number of unmanned surface ships, some military analysts believe they are existing US systems.
The US Navy is working to construct a variety of USVs of varying sizes. Larger versions, like as the Leidos Sea Hunter, will carry out long-term ocean missions in the same way that manned naval ships do. The smaller USVs, on the other hand, are intended for intelligence gathering, communications relay, and minesweeping. Because they are more technically complete, the USVs provided to Ukraine are likely to be tiny.
The Common USV, produced by Textron, is one possible system that the US may have delivered to Ukraine. The system is around the size of a conventional patrol boat, being about 10 metres in length. Depending on the task, this USV can carry a number of weaponry, including prospective weapons. The device has a range of 1,200 nautical miles and can achieve speeds of more than 48 kilometres per hour.
The Mantas T-12, produced by MARTAC, is another likely possibility. The system is compact, measuring 3.6 metres in length and weighing 95 kilogrammes with a practical payload of 63.5 kg. It has a range of 23 to 60 nautical miles and can reach speeds of more than 80 kilometres per hour. It was designed primarily for intelligence gathering. The Mantas T-12 has recently been seen in a number of cooperative naval exercises between the United States and Bahrain.
The USVs supplied to Ukraine were most likely built for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) activities, according to Bryan Clark, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Defense Technologies and Concepts.
According to observers, regardless of the type of USVs provided to Ukraine, they continue to play a significant role for the Ukrainian military in the context of Russia’s intensified attack in the Donbass region, which borders the Sea of Azov. Russia has blockaded Ukrainian ports along the Black Sea coast and has control of the Sea of Azov’s coast. This enables the Russian military to use the navy’s power to assist ground forces.
The Russian military is considering three options for deploying its navy to assist ground forces. The Russian Navy, for starters, can offer supplies at sea. Given the difficulties the Russian military has resupplying on land as a result of Ukraine’s counter-attacks, resupply by water may be a safer and more secure option. Second, the Russian Navy would back an amphibious assault against Ukraine’s defences, allowing ground forces to breach the country’s defences. An amphibious attack was previously carried out by Russia at the start of a military campaign. Finally, the Russian Navy can give fire support to ground forces thanks to formidable weaponry such as cruise missiles with a range of over 1,400 kilometres.
All of the following calculations are based on the assumption that, given the existing imbalance in military size and equipment, detecting and attacking Russian ships will be difficult for Ukraine. The Russian Navy is regarded as the world’s second most powerful navy, surpassing Ukraine’s. Not to add that targeting ships at sea is tough due to the difficulty in pinpointing their location.
The USV gives the capability to identify and locate ships, allowing ground-based missile systems to target them more effectively. They have the advantage of not requiring a driver, allowing them to operate in potentially dangerous or conflict-prone waters without fear of human loss. Furthermore, they can patrol the coasts on their own for extended periods of time, as well as detect ships approaching shore for resupply or amphibious assault. USV’s presence works as a deterrence to such behaviour.
“There are various jobs that the USV can take on, such as helping to strengthen the ability to monitor far from the coast, assisting in assaulting enemy ships, minesweeping on canals,” said Peter W. Singer, a military technology expert.
According to military specialists, unmanned vehicles are being employed in the Russia-Ukraine conflict at an unprecedented rate. They are expected to play a key part in the next phase of the Russo-Ukrainian war. Despite the fact that it is hard to foretell how the conflict will conclude, the introduction of the USV will undoubtedly alter the tactical balance.