Ukrainian Drone Boats Sink Russian Navy Patrol Ship

The latest victim of Ukrainian uncrewed surface vessels was the Russian Navy’s modern Project 22160 patrol ship Sergei Kotov.

byThomas Newdick|
SERGEI KOTOV was sunk by Ukrainian drone boats.


Ukraine continues to strike blows against the Russian Black Sea Fleet, with the latest victim being the Project 22160 patrol ship Sergei Kotov, which was the target of an overnight attack involving uncrewed surface vessels (USVs), or ‘drone boats.’ The same vessel had come under USV attack before, with Russia claiming to have foiled an effort to sink it last July before the warship was reportedly damaged again in September.

The incident is said to have taken place near the Kerch Strait that separates Russian-occupied Crimea from the Russian mainland. The attack has been attributed to Group 13, a special unit of the Defense Intelligence of Ukraine (GUR), part of Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense. The GUR said it conducted the mission in cooperation with the Ukrainian Navy and the Ministry of Digital Transformation, which plays an important role in drone development.

The GUR released the above video today showing the attack on the Sergei Kotov, including the USVs closing in toward the warship, seen in silhouette. One drone strikes the hull, causing a large explosion. Additional USVs then appear to target the hole in the hull caused by the first explosion. Additional detonations then follow as the warship begins to sink. This is further evidence that some of the USVs deliberately hit the targeted vessel in the same location, to inflict the maximum damage — a tactic we have seen before.

Another video, this time published by pro-Kremlin channels, and taken from a vessel nearby, shows gunfire, indicating that the Sergei Kotov attempted to engage the USVs. It also ends with a large explosion.

According to Ukrainian officials, the Sergei Kotov was attacked by five Magura V5 drones that impacted the ship’s stern, and on the right and left sides — you can read more about these increasingly important weapons here. The Ukrainian officials’ accounts are backed up by witness statements quoted by channels on the Telegram messaging app that also reported five loud explosions.

Commissioned only in July 2022, the Sergei Kotov was one of four Project 22160 patrol ships, all of which are assigned to the Black Sea Fleet, with another two reportedly under construction. These ships displace around 1,965 tons and are 300 feet long. The exact weapons fit of the vessels is unclear, but they have the capacity, at least, to be armed with Kalibr land attack cruise missiles, as widely used by Russia in Ukraine. Otherwise, the Sergei Kotov was reportedly armed with a 76mm AK-176 main gun, an Igla-S short-range surface-to-air missile launcher, two 14.5mm machine guns, and various anti-saboteur grenade launchers. Vessels of the class began embarking ground-based Tor-M2 (SA-15 Gauntlet) surface-to-air missile systems soon after the start of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, to address air defense shortfalls.

As we have reported in the past, the Ukrainian-developed Magura V5 is understood to be 18 feet long, with a range of 450 nautical miles, a cruising speed of 22 knots, and a burst speed of 42 knots. It features waterjet propulsion and its streamlined hull can carry a payload of 705 pounds. The manufacturer says it communicates via mesh radio with an air-based repeater and/or SATCOM.

A Magura V5 that fell into Russian hands.

The fate of the roughly 40 crew members that would typically be aboard the Sergei Kotov is unknown.

The GUR says the Sergei Kotov was worth around $65 million. There are unconfirmed reports that a Ka-29 Helix-B naval assault helicopter aboard the vessel was also destroyed. These helicopters, among other aircraft, are known to have been used by Russia in efforts to hunt down Ukrainian naval drones in waters around Crimea.

Claiming another warship of the Black Sea Fleet is another major victory for Ukraine, which currently has very little in the way of conventional naval vessels at its disposal and has been forced to use more unconventional means to try and wrest control of these waters from Russia.

The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense tweeted that the Sergei Kotov had become “a submarine” and had “joined the Moskva,” a reference to the former Black Sea Fleet flagship, sunk by Ukrainian forces in April 2022.

“[The] historic humiliation of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet continues,” tweeted Illia Ponomarenko, the former defense correspondent for the Kyiv Independent newspaper.

Meanwhile, Russian observers responded to the news with predictable dismay.

On Telegram, the Russian military blogger account @Z13_Separ posted: “I don’t want to comment on this. Because if this continues, the Black Sea Fleet will only have catamarans and rubber banana boats for tourists. [It’s] fucked up.”

In terms of military value, the loss of the Sergei Kotov strikes another blow against the Black Sea Fleet, which Ukraine continues to chip away at, gradually eroding Russian naval power in the region.

The Dmitriy Rogachyov, sister vessel of the Project 22160 patrol ship Sergei Kotov, at Sevastopol in April 201. Russian Ministry of Defense

Successes such as these are also proving to be an effective way of taking the war to the Russians more generally, especially with Ukraine increasingly on the back foot in the ground operation on the eastern front. After the loss of the salient city of Avdiivka to Russian forces after a bloody five-month campaign, the use of naval drones to try and redress the balance, somewhat, is paying dividends.

The destruction of the Sergei Kotov becomes the latest in a line of Russian naval losses, including the sinking of the Ropucha class landing ship Cesar Kunikov (also written as Tsezar Kunikov) off the coast of Crimea on February 14. This vessel also capsized after it came under attack from Magura V5 naval drones, as you can read about here.

As to the wider situation in the Black Sea specifically, it appears that Ukrainian actions have forced Russia to relocate parts of the Black Sea Fleet to the safety of the port of Novorossiysk, in the Krasnodar region of Russia.

Last summer, Ukraine resumed exports of commercial grain shipments from Odesa and other Black Sea ports, helping to preserve a critical part of its economy. Replacing a former U.N.-backed Black Sea export deal with its own shipping scheme has been a surprising success for Ukraine.

Ultimately, Ukraine seeks to force the Russians out of Crimea. To achieve this, it is pursuing a campaign against the Russian military on the peninsula, including the assets of the Black Sea Fleet. At the same time, it is attempting to degrade logistics between Crimea and the Russian mainland by targeting the Kerch Bridge that connects the two.

For the time being, at least, it seems that the strategy of using explosives-laden uncrewed surface vessels against the vessels of the Black Sea Fleet is perhaps the most effective — and morale-boosting — method of working toward these long-term goals.

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