The Russian Ministry of Defence has announced that Russian Pacific Fleet corvettes Gromky and Hero of Russian Federation Altar Tsydenzhapov have participated in training drills directed at countering uncrewed surface vessels (USV), at the Peter the Great Bay training area.

The drills included the use of AK-630M anti-aircraft artillery systems and large calibre machine guns to destroy mock enemy targets, according to the 29 February 2024, release from Russia, which went on to describe methods of sectoral firing in conditions against a massive attack by unscrewed surface vessels.

Uncrewed surface vessels are widely considered to be having a major effect on naval military strategic thinking, with the potential for low-cost, low profile, low production-time, attritable USVs to destroy well-built, large naval platforms. Striking at the waterline, and armed with a high payload of explosives, the threat from USVs targets critical areas of a ship’s superstructure.  

Ukraine has made effective use of USVs during its defence against the full-scale Russian invasion that began in February 2022. In February 2024, Ukraine claimed to have sunk two major Russian naval assets using USVs. 

Russia’s Caesar Kunikov, a large amphibious assault vessel, was sunk on 14 February off the coast of Russian-occupied Crimea. This attack utilised Magura V5 floating drones, resembling a speedboat, with the capability to reach 80kph while carrying 700 pounds of weight. 

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Earlier, on 1 February, Ukraine sank the Russian Tarantula-class Iavonets corvette, after multiple USVs impacted the side of the ship and exploded. 

Ukraine has sunk three other major Russian ships in the Black Sea, using cruise missiles and shore to ship missiles, including landing-ships the Novocherkassk in  December 2023, and the the Saratov in March 2022, and the Russian Navy’s flagship vessel, the Moskva in April 2022. 

As the pace of development in uncrewed one-way weapon systems accelerates, questions still remain about Ukraine’s decision to advance surface-based drones, when sub-surface weapon systems provide significant advantages.