Russia’s Harbor Defenses In Sevastopol In Disarray After Storm

An increasingly complex harbor defense system Russia set up in Sevastopol to thwart Ukrainian uncrewed surface vessel (USV) attacks and other forms of infiltration was significantly damaged by yesterday’s hurricane-like storm, new satellite imagery obtained by The War Zone shows.

A Planet Labs satellite image taken today shows lines of booms and barges, among other obstacles, that once protected the home of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in serious disarray. Some of the booms have been detached and some of the barges are no longer visible after the storm.

This Planet Labs satellite image shows Russian defenses at Sevastopol Harbor severely affected by yesterday’s hurricane-like storm. PHOTO © 2023 PLANET LABS INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. REPRINTED BY PERMISSION
A Planet Labs satellite image taken Nov. 11 shows how an array of booms and barges designed to protect Sevastopol Harbor looked before yesterday’s massive storm. PHOTO © 2023 PLANET LABS INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. REPRINTED BY PERMISSION

This is the kind of destruction we predicted yesterday that could happen as winds in excess of 90 mph and huge waves battered Crimea.

From our report: “The storm’s impact could allow Ukraine to exploit gaps that emerge, even if temporarily, in air and port defenses, sea surveillance, among others. Major logistical disruptions to the war effort are also a given.”

As we have noted in the past, Sevastopol dramatically boosted its harbor defenses after repeated seaborne attacks. Russia has constructed multiple boom obstacles across the mouth of Sevastopol harbor as part of a layered sea, shore, and air defense concept. Barges and nets are also used to disrupt attacks on and below the surface of the water. Kinetic systems have also been placed along the seawalls to engage approaching threats. This is all in addition to aircraft and boats that rove the area in defense of the harbor, with various sensor systems providing additional warning.

In addition to affecting the physical harbor barriers, the storm also appeared to have destroyed the pens holding militarily trained bottlenosed dolphins, according to naval expert H. I. Sutton (@CovertShores). It’s also possible that the pens were towed elsewhere prior to the storm, but they have not been located as of yet.

It would not be surprising to see Ukraine try to take advantage of this new gap in Sevastopol’s harbor defense. Leveraging opportunities posed by the weather is one of the oldest tenets of warfare. Kyiv has also been quite vocal in its public proclamations that attacks across Crimea will continue.

It is unclear how long it will take Russia to restore those defenses now that the weather has calmed. Russian occupation officials say an emergency is still in effect in parts of Crimea and that work is underway to restore damage to civilian infrastructure. They make no mention, however, of the harbor defenses.

As we also noted yesterday, in addition to fortifying Sevastopol harbor, Russia additionally installed a system of sunken barges to protect the Kerch Bridge. Vladimir Putin’s prized $4 billion span linking occupied Crimea to Russia was hit by Ukrainin Sea Baby USVs on July 17. More recently, booms have been placed in the approaches to the northern part of the bridge. Imagery posted yesterday shows some of those booms removed or washed away, as well.

The degradation in these defenses will be temporary. By tomorrow, winds will have died down to between 5mph and 10mph, allowing for work to commence more easily on getting them back into place.

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Howard Altman Avatar

Howard Altman

Senior Staff Writer

Howard is a Senior Staff Writer for The War Zone, and a former Senior Managing Editor for Military Times. Prior to this, he covered military affairs for the Tampa Bay Times as a Senior Writer. Howard's work has appeared in various publications including Yahoo News, RealClearDefense, and Air Force Times.