New Drone Boat Named Sea Baby Used In Kerch Bridge Attack

The Sea Baby is claimed to pack a 1,800-pound warhead and is said to have been used in the last drone boat attack on the Kerch Bridge.

byThomas Newdick|
Ukraine Drone Boat Bridge Attack
Ukrainian Government


Ukraine has formally accepted responsibility for the July 17 attack on the Kerch Bridge, which connects Russia with the occupied Crimean peninsula and has also revealed the experimental drone boat design that it says it used to prosecute it. The Sea Baby is the latest drone boat, or unmanned surface vehicle (USV), to appear in Ukrainian hands, with these explosives-laden craft becoming an increasingly popular weapon in the complex campaign fought around the Black Sea.

A report from CNN last night included the new disclosures about last month’s Kerch Bridge attack and the Sea Baby drone boat. The footage in question was meanwhile released by the Security Service of Ukraine, or SBU. Different parts of the video show the drone itself, apparently during tests, as well as its purported use against the bridge.

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The sequence showing the attack on the bridge is seen both from the perspective of a camera mounted on the drone boat, as well as from the bridge itself, apparently from a closed-circuit TV system. It’s unclear how the SBU came to obtain the CCTV footage.

In the video from the USV’s perspective, the drone boat — claimed to be a Sea Baby — is seen moments before impacting one of the bridge’s concrete supports. According to the report, the drone boat carried “up to 850 kilograms of explosives” — or up to around 1,800 pounds. This is a larger payload than any other known Ukrainian drone boat.

The CCTV videos show the moment of impact of one drone on the road section of the bridge. Approximately five minutes later, another of the USVs approaches from the opposite direction and impacts the railway section of the bridge. At the moment of detonation, a train can be seen crossing the bridge, although it’s not known if the attack was timed to coincide with this.

As you can read about in our previous reporting, the July 17 attack on the Kerch Bridge damaged the road lanes, while Russian officials said that it killed two civilians.

Close-up view of the damaged Kerch Bridge span. Satellite image ©2023 Maxar Technologies

As for the Sea Baby that the SBU says was used in this operation, the service’s chief, Vasyl Maliuk, told CNN that the development of this USV began “just after” the full-scale Russian invasion in February 2022.

Maluik emphasized that the drone boats are manufactured locally and without Western involvement. Of Ukraine’s Western partners, the SBU boss said: “They do not participate in our operations or provide us with any equipment or anything else. These drones are produced at an underground production facility in the territory of Ukraine.”

“Sea surface drones are a unique invention of the Security Service of Ukraine,” Maliuk continued. “None of the private companies are involved. Using these drones, we have recently conducted a successful hit of the Crimean bridge, the big assault ship Olengorsky Gornyak, and Sig tanker.”

A video showing the attack on the Russian Navy’s Ropucha class amphibious landing ship Olenegorsky Gornyak, on August 4:

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You can read our reports of the drone boat attacks on the amphibious assault ship Olengorsky Gornyak here, and on the Sig tanker here.

The statement from Maliuk leaves some ambiguity as to whether the attacks on the two Russian vessels mentioned were also prosecuted using Sea Baby drones. Based on a visual comparison, this seems impossible, however, with entirely different forward hull shapes. There are other USV options available now to the SBU and the Ukrainian Navy, with smaller, lower profile drone boats that are not only less complex but also more maneuverable, harder to spot, and overall better suited to attacking defended warships, or other vessels, for that matter.

The Sea Baby follows the lineage of earlier Ukrainian USVs, being a low-visibility gray boat with gimballed and staring optical sensors, as well as beyond-line-of-sight communications, allowing for remote control.

A variant of Ukraine's first kamikaze drone boat underway during testing. UNITED24

A prominent radome-like enclosure on the Sea Baby would contain a satellite communications antenna, allowing targets to be attacked at extreme distances.

While the scale of the Sea Baby is hard to judge based on the available video, it appears a bit larger than some earlier designs, with a deeper-v hull, and the claim that it carries a 1,800-pound warhead is highly significant.

Another earlier Ukrainian USV design was revealed in a video shown by CNN in July of this year:

After the attack on the Sig, Ukrainian intelligence sources told Reuters that the warhead of the USV used in that operation weighed 450 kilograms or a little under 1,000 pounds. This was already considered a much heavier-hitting warhead than those thought to be fitted to certain earlier USV designs, pointing squarely to efforts to increase their lethality.

Clearly, a warhead of around 1,800 pounds represents a much greater destructive power, although this would be entirely in keeping for an infrastructure target such as the Kerch Bridge. This points to the Sea Baby being built specifically for such fortified targets, and the Kerch Bridge specifically.

As well as increasingly large warheads, Ukraine’s USVs have also been showing an expanding ability to hit targets at much greater ranges. In the case of the attack on the Olengorsky Gornyak, for example, this was carried out in the Russian naval port of Novorossiysk on the eastern coast of the Black Sea, roughly 420 miles from the closest Ukrainian-held shores.

The location of Novorossiysk, a major Russian port and another home to elements of the Black Sea Fleet. Google Earth

Ukrainian security services told CNN that there would be more drone attacks to follow.

“We are working on a number of new, interesting operations, including in the Black Sea waters,” Maliuk said. “I promise you, it’ll be exciting, especially for our enemies.”

Bearing in mind its strategic and symbolic importance, there’s every likelihood that the Kerch Bridge will come under attack by drone boats again. After all, the raid on July 17 was not the first time that this critical crossing — the only direct link  — between Russia and Crimea had been hit.

It's also noteworthy that Ukrainian officials are increasingly open about their involvement in drone strikes of different kinds against Russian objectives. The same candidness has also been a characteristic of more recent Ukrainian aerial drone attacks against Russian targets, some of them deep within its own borders.

As well as the latest Kerch Bridge attack, the SBU took responsibility for a large-scale drone attack on Russian Navy Black Sea Fleet ships in the port of Sevastopol, in Russian-occupied Crimea, last October. The SBU also confirmed to CNN that it was behind the October 8 attack on the Kerch Bridge. By most accounts, this involved a truck driving onto the bridge, loaded with explosives, although details of the operation remain scarce.

The July 17 attack on the bridge is just part of a much wider pattern of incidents involving USVs around the Black Sea in recent months.

As well as the aforementioned attacks on the Olengorsky Gornyak and the Sig, there have been repeated attempts to attack the port of Sevastopol as well as individual attacks made on Russian ships of the Black Sea Fleet operating far offshore.

In parallel with these operations, it’s meanwhile clear that Ukraine is busily developing new and more capable USVs, including ones with the requisite range and warhead size to attack a wider range of targets, including strategic objectives like the Kerch Bridge. And, with an apparent new openness from officials when it comes to talking about these attacks, it’s possible that we will learn more about the Sea Baby and other drones in the near future.

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