Drone Boat’s View Of Supposed Attack On Russian Ship Emerges (Updated)

A new video has emerged, purportedly showing yesterday’s attempted Ukrainian drone boat attack on the Russian intelligence ship Ivan Khurs, in the Black Sea, this time from the perspective of one of the uncrewed surface vessels (USVs) involved. Provided it’s legitimate, the new video helps build a picture of the attack, which we reported on in detail yesterday, suggesting that, contrary to Russian reports, at least one USV actually reached the ship.

The new video, only around 15 seconds long, appears to have been taken from a camera mounted on one of the USVs as it races toward the Ivan Khurs, a Project 18280 Yuriy Ivanov class intelligence ship. Amid signs of tracer fire emanating from the ship and skipping over the waves, the USV approaches the vessel and gets to within only a few feet of the left-hand side of the stern before the video cuts out. There is no sign of a detonation of the USV’s explosive payload or its destruction by the ship, but either of those scenarios remains possible.

The video was posted to Telegram by the Ukrainian channel Orestocracy, together with the following description:

“GUR [Defense Intelligence of Ukraine] drones did hit the Russian scout Ivan Khurs, it was damaged. Video interception is proof of this.”

“Konashenkov [the chief spokesperson for the Russian Ministry of Defense] lied twice, claiming that all ‘three naval drones were destroyed from the standard armament of the Russian ship’ and that ‘the ship itself was not damaged.’ At least one of the drones hit an enemy object.”

While these claims have not been independently verified, the new video does at least appear to show part of the drone attack, which, according to the Russian account, took place about 90 miles northeast of Turkey’s Bosporus Strait, at around 5:30 A.M. yesterday.

The previous video released by the Russian Ministry of Defense yesterday, and seen in the tweet below, claims to show the destruction of one of the Ukrainian USVs, which explodes spectacularly after coming under fire from deck-mounted 14.5mm machine guns aboard the Ivan Khurs. The general lighting is the same in both videos.

The Russian Ministry of Defense described the attack as “unsuccessful” and that all three USVs “were destroyed by fire from the standard armament of a Russian ship.” The defense ministry added that “The ship Ivan Khurs of the Black Sea Fleet continues to fulfill its tasks.”

As well as its four MTPU marine pedestal mounts, each with a single 14.5mm KPVT machine gun, as we observed yesterday, the Ivan Khurs reportedly also has six 9K38 Igla surface-to-air missile launchers, provided with 32 9M39 missiles, to defend against fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. One portion of the apparent video from the USV’s perspective seems to show one of the Igla launchers, of the pedestal type, apparently unmanned at the time of the attack, although it would have offered no defense against USVs.

Another observation from the new video is that the name of the ship appears to have been removed from the rear of the hull, although this is by no means unusual for Russian vessels operating in the Black Sea since the start of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

An earlier photo of a Russian Black Sea Fleet Buyan-M class corvette, also with its name and hull number painted out, can be seen below:

Once again, it’s worth noting that we don’t know for sure if either of these videos actually shows yesterday’s incident in the Black Sea, which remains generally mysterious. However, two pieces of footage, from different perspectives, coupled with an official account from the Russian Ministry of Defense and an unofficial one from Ukraine, at least lend credence to the fact that some kind of attack on the Ivan Khurs was attempted, or at least we are being made to think it did.

The identities of the USVs used in the attack are also unconfirmed at this stage, with the possibility that they could have even been Russian, rather than Ukrainian. This is something we considered in our previous report, although the drone boats do, at least, bear a passing resemblance to USVs used in earlier Ukrainian attacks on the Black Sea Fleet, but with a different hullform. Unfortunately, the perspective of the new video doesn’t reveal any further details about the USV type.

Most intriguing, perhaps, remains the claimed location of the attack on the Ivan Khurs, around 200 miles from the nearest unoccupied Ukrainian coastline, provided the Russian account is to be believed. That would suggest that Ukraine is operating USVs with a much greater range than previously thought, or perhaps that the drones were, in fact, not of Ukrainian origin after all. Another possibility is that Ukraine used some kind of mothership from which to launch the drones at a standoff distance, but this would have been a complex operation and one that would include plenty of its own additional risks.

As we discussed yesterday, it’s even possible that the incident was a ‘false flag’ staged by Russia in Turkey’s Exclusive Economic Zone, to present Ukraine as the aggressor, especially in regard to an expansion of the conflict into the control zones of NATO states. However, the emergence of the new video and its apparent first appearance on a Ukrainian Telegram channel would seem to undermine that.

In this map, the white box shows the general area where Russia claims the attack took place. The yellow line measures a distance 90 miles northeast of the Bosphorus Strait. Google Earth

Another question mark remains over the degree of damage caused by the USV attack. Previous raids of this kind directed against the Black Sea Fleet have inflicted minimal damage. In the case of the Ivan Khurs, the official Russian account states that all three drones involved were destroyed and the ship emerged unscathed. Should the latest video be legitimate, that could call into question that narrative somewhat. At the very least, the video suggests that one of the USVs got very close to the Russian vessel — a proximity at which even if it was destroyed by gunfire, it would likely have had at least some residual effect on the Ivan Khurs.

Unofficial Russian social media accounts have today posted recycled footage of the Ivan Khurs (or other ships entirely) sailing in the Bosporus Strait during earlier times, to refute claims of any damage being inflicted. With an intense information (and disinformation) campaign, from channels official and otherwise, emanating from both sides, it remains very hard to tell exactly what happened yesterday and what damage, if any, was inflicted.

Meanwhile, Russian accounts have also jumped on a claimed spike in activity by NATO surveillance aircraft in the apparent area of the attack, based on open-source information. While there is nothing to suggest these reconnaissance sorties were in any way related to the attack on the Ivan Khurs, it remains the case that a U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk drone was patrolling very close to where the incident is supposed to have occurred, possibly in response to the incident. That said, flights like this have been a regular occurrence in the region even before the all-out Russian invasion in February 2022.

And on top of all this uncertainty, it remains entirely unclear why Ukraine — if Kyiv was the aggressor here — would have launched such an attack at such long range, against a vessel of relatively limited importance vis-à-vis the wider conflict. One possible answer would be that the targeted ship would not have been in a high readiness state to defend itself so deep into the southern portion of the Black Sea. It also was not a warship heavily equipped for weaponry and sensors, making it a softer target.

If Ukraine did indeed execute this operation, it signifies a new level of unmanned surface vehicle capability, or at least operational complexity, considering the distance at which it occurred.

Hopefully, in the course of time, more information will become available to provide a better understanding of exactly what happened to the Ivan Khurs in the Black Sea yesterday.

Update, 1:00 P.M. PST: The Ukrainian state broadcaster, Suspilne, reports that the Ivan Khurs was indeed damaged as a result of the attack on May 24. According to their account, the hull and unspecified equipment were damaged, leaving the ship needing repairs. The same report also suggests that some of the crew were injured. Suspilne cites unnamed sources in military circles, but there is so far no independent collaboration of these claims.

There is also mounting evidence that Ukraine was behind the drone attack, or attempted attack, with an official claim of responsibility from the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense. The ministry today tweeted the same 15-second video, with the following statement added: “When the Russian reconnaissance ship Ivan Khurs met a Ukrainian drone. Indeed, a perfect match!”

Contact the author: thomas@thewarzone.com