Ukrainian Drone Boat Appears To Have Been Captured By Russia

The intact capture of a Ukrainian MAGURA V5 drone boat could give Russians new insights, even if limited, and help with their own designs.

byHoward Altman, Tyler Rogoway|
Russian has captured an intact Ukrainian MAGURA V drone boat Russian sources claim
Russian has captured an intact Ukrainian MAGURA V drone boat Russian sources claim. Via Twitter
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A Ukrainian Maritime Autonomous Guard Unmanned Robotic Apparatus (MAGURA) V5 uncrewed surface vessel (USV) has been captured intact by Russia in western Crimea, Russian milbloggers are reporting on Telegram. Images of the drone boat sitting totally intact onshore seem to support this claim.

It was attempting to attack Russian ships in western Crimea "when it fell into Russian hands," the Russian Military Informant Telegram channel reported. In commenting on the capture, the Two Majors Telegram channel offered an ominous warning: "Soon a surprise will await the enemy," a seeming indication that Russia might work to reverse engineer this USV.

Neither the Ukrainian nor Russian defense ministries have commented on the claimed capture of the MAGURA V5, which The War Zone cannot independently verify. The capture of this vessel, however, could provide a boost to Russia's ability to counter these USVs as well as to the development of their own. It would also mark the second known time that Russia has gotten its hands on a Ukrainian USV. As we reported in September 2022, an early version of a Ukrainian USV was found beached in Sevastopol. It was the first time we had ever seen a Ukrainian USV and it was a month before Ukraine unleashed its drone boat campaign against Russian naval assets, starting with a massive attack on Sevastopol.

The first appearance of a Ukrainian USV was well over a year ago, and it too fell into Russian hands.

The more advanced UAV in question today was created by the Ukrainian state enterprise “SpetsTechnoExport,” the MAGURA V5 is a 5.5 meter (18 feet)-long USV with a range of 450 nautical miles, a cruising speed of 22 knots and a burst speed of 42 knots thanks to its waterjet propulsion and streamlined hull, according to according to the Ukrainian Militarnyi media outlet. Sitting a half meter (1.6 feet) above the waterline with a payload capacity of 320 kilograms (705 pounds), the Magura V5 packs a significant punch in a hard-to-spot USV. The company says it communicates via mesh radio with an air-based repeater and/or SATCOM, but more on that in a moment.

It's unclear when the MAGURA V5 was first used in combat, but it was introduced publicly at the International Defense Industry Fair (IDEF) in Turkey in July, according to Militanaryi.

Also in July, a CNN report on Ukraine's USV program included video that shows the MAGURA V5. While CNN does not name the USV, it's the same USV depicted in the images released on Russian Telegram Wednesday, but there are some differences in terms of sub-component configuration.

In the CNN video, the MAGURA V5 features a gimbaled forward-looking infrared (FLIR) sensor, which appears to be missing from the one reportedly captured. We see the round hole where it should be mounted, so it may have fallen off when coming ashore. Both boats have the fairing that encloses a staring forward-looking camera system on the bow, as well.

The one in the video also features a single high-bandwidth SATCOM array. The one on the rocks features three distinct high-bandwidth SATCOM arrays and what looks like one low-bandwidth SATCOM antenna. The latter would be used to provide semi-autonomous control and to provide periodic updates during transits, for instance. The variant CNN was shown was clearly for the demonstration and it would not require any SATCOM capability, let alone the redundant kinds of beyond line-of-sight communications systems needed to successfully guide a USV manually during its attack run while operating hundreds of miles from its controllers.

As for Ukraine's prevalent use of USVs, in August, the Ropucha class vessel Olenegorsky Gornyak was struck by a Ukrainian USV near Russia’s Black Sea port of Novorossiysk, roughly 420 miles from Ukrainian-held shores.

In an interview with Naval News during the September DSEI 2023 exhibition in London, Ivan Sybyriakov, Unmanned Systems Manager for SpetsTechnoExport said the Magura V5 "is very fast" and "the line of the water is not so high. So it’s very difficult to detect it in the water. Also, this drone can be used not only as a chemical hazard to hit the target, it could work in the swarms for different purposes."

In addition, he said the MAGURA V5 "can also be used as a safety boat, for intelligence and surveillance operations to detect possible enemies in different kinds of waters."

A model of the MAGURA V5, which you can see in the video below, seems to be the same type of USV seen in the CNN broadcast.

As we noted earlier, Ukraine first unleashed its USV campaign against Russia in October 2022 when several were used to attack Sevastopol in Crimea, home to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. There has been a constant series of attacks since then on a variety of targets. Here are just a few examples of many in Ukraine's ongoing maritime campaign:

There was an a strike on a Russian Navy intelligence ship Ivan Khurs deep in the Black Sea in May, the July attack on the Kerch Bridge and in August, the Ropucha class vessel Olenegorsky Gornyak was struck by a Ukrainian USV near Russia’s Black Sea port of Novorossiysk. That's some 70 miles southeast of the Kerch Bridge and roughly 420 miles from Ukrainian-held shores.

Prior to the one claimed Wednesday, the most recent of these attacks came two weeks ago. That's when Ukraine's Defense Intelligence Directorate (GUR) said it destroyed two Russian landing vessels in western Ukraine. You can read more about that attack here.

As we noted earlier, there likely is no critical loss of highly sensitive technology here, but knowing exactly what components are being used operationally is a substantial problem. Having an intact example of anything of this nature is the holy grail of intelligence gathering on technological systems, as we have detailed many times before. In this case, capturing this boat could lead to enhanced detection of them by Russian forces, especially in terms of what exact communications they are using, their electronic signatures, and how exactly they are using them. Even the exact FLIR systems being used and their operating wave lengths can be helpful in developing countermeasures, which Russia is already very active in doing.

The warhead is also important. Russia can see exactly how it is configured with an intact example. What mission computing is onboard and exactly how the boats are physically controlled would also be of interest. Comparing all these elements to those from the drone boat captured over a year ago would provide a high-quality comparative physical analysis of Ukraine's technological progress in terms of drone boat capabilities.

That being said, we really don't know what Russia already knows through other collection means, especially intelligence gathering efforts that differ from the exploitation of foreign materiel, such as cyber espionage and human intelligence sources. Still, Ukraine is rapidly evolving its drone boat capabilities so technical intelligence perishes rapidly in this regard.

Samuel Bendett, a drone expert and researcher with the Center for Naval Analyses think tank, offered a similar take about the value of the MAGURA V5 to the Russians.

"Well, remember the first two Ukrainian USVs that washed up in Sevastopol last September? The loss of these boats did not prevent Ukraine from building more unmanned maritime craft, and they still conducted more and more strikes - and Russian possession of those captured USVs did not lead Russians to build better defenses against such weapons that could have prevented all such attacks," he told The War Zone. You can see that USV in the tweet below.

While those were initial versions of Ukrainian USVs which have had successive improvements over time, "...it is unclear at this point if the loss of this MAGURA is a big deal, given that Ukraine is many steps ahead of the Russians so far in this unmanned maritime technology race," Bendett said.

Bendett acknowledged that having access to an intact vessel will give the Russians insight into how all the components work together and that it "maybe" prove problematic. That, however, is a calculus Ukraine likely takes when it launches these missions.

"I think Russians had that information before as well," he said about what details they could learn by capturing an intact MAGURA V5. "I assume Ukrainians don't think that none of their systems can be captured by the Russians - it's realistic to assume that some of these USVs may be in fact taken captive."

So clearly, for Russia, having one of these intact is a good thing. How good it is, and how bad for Ukraine remains to be seen.

Contact the author: howard@thewarzone.com

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