Ukrainian Drone Boat Scores Direct Hit On Russian Warship (Updated)

An explosive-laden Ukrainian drone boat struck the Russian Navy landing ship Olenegorsky Gornyak, leaving it badly damaged.

byThomas Newdick, Tyler Rogoway|
Drone boat attack Russia ship
via Twitter


A Russian Navy amphibious landing ship appears to have been badly damaged as the result of a Ukrainian drone attack early this morning. Different videos and photos show the apparent attack on the Ropucha class vessel Olenegorsky Gornyak, as well as its aftermath, with the ship left listing in Russia’s Black Sea port of Novorossiysk, close to where the attack reportedly took place. Novorossiysk, a major Russian port on the eastern coast of the Black Sea, sits roughly 420 miles from Ukrainian-held shores.

The video below was purportedly taken from the drone boat as it approached the landing ship from the port side. When its explosive payload detonates, the footage abruptly cuts out:

Subsequent imagery confirms that the vessel was damaged and has begun to take on water, listing to port. In at least one of the videos, the Olenegorsky Gornyak is seen under tow, while already listing badly and sitting very low in the water.

Unconfirmed reports out of Ukraine suggest that the Olenegorsky Gornyak was targeted by one or more uncrewed surface vessels (USVs) in a joint operation by the Ukrainian Navy and the Security Service of Ukraine, or SBU.

“As a result of the attack, the Olenegorskiy Gornyak sustained a serious hole and is currently unable to carry out its combat missions,” a Ukrainian intelligence source told Reuters.

Novorossiysk is a major Russian port and another home to elements of the Black Sea Fleet. (Google Earth)

Meanwhile, the Russian Ministry of Defense acknowledges that the attack took place, but claims that it was repelled, the USVs being destroyed by Russian warships.

The available evidence suggests this is not the case. At the very least, even if one or more USVs were disabled, the Olenegorsky Gornyak was still left badly damaged.

Using explosives-laden USVs has become an increasingly popular Ukrainian tactic in the complex campaign fought in and around the Black Sea.

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. There have also been repeated attempts to attack that same key port as well as individual attacks made on Russian ships of the Black Sea Fleet operating far offshore. Ukraine has even used its unmanned surface vessels in an earlier attempt to strike Novorossiysk, as it successfully did today. More recently, USVs also were reportedly responsible for the attack on the Kerch Bridge that connects Crimea with the Russian mainland.

Overall, USV attacks have increasingly come over greater distances from Ukraine-controlled shores.

The available video of the USV used in the attack on the Olenegorsky Gornyak does not reveal too many details, although the configuration appears similar to a new type of drone boat that was revealed only days ago.

As we reported at the time, this USV is “a low-visibility gray boat that has gimballed and staring optical sensors allowing for remote control. It can reportedly carry a big 300-kilogram warhead out to a range of 800 kilometers... The satellite communications array seen at the rear of the boat is also new. It is widely assumed that Starlink was used on earlier Ukrainian drone boats, but the company began limiting access to certain areas and other parameters to negate the systems with weapons like drone boats. This new satcom array likely gets around those limitations by using another provider.”

A video of the apparently new USV design showed it making tight turns and maneuvers just offshore while under the control of its operator. That operator, using the callsign “Shark,” explained that the drone boats were specifically designed to exploit a hole in Russian warships’ defenses with their low profile. 

In the past, a number of Ukrainian drone attacks against Russian warships have been foiled after the ships and supporting helicopters managed to engage the boats in massed small arms and cannon fire once within visual range. Still, Ukraine has continued to invest heavily in these weapons, rapidly evolving their capabilities.

It looks like this effort is now finally paying off.

This is a developing story. Stay with The War Zone for updates on this latest attack.

Update, 7:00 AM PST: As well as the apparent USV attack on the Russian Navy amphibious landing ship Olenegorsky Gornyak, there are reports that other Russian targets have come under recent attack.

There are reports that explosions occurred in the area of ​​Yuzhnaya Ozerievka, where the Caspian Pipeline Consortium’s marine terminal is located, close to the scene of the landing ship attack. Once again, drone boats are said to have been used, in this case, to attack oil infrastructure.

Similarly, Russia says it repelled the drone boat attack on the oil facility, although based on its comments about the Olenegorsky Gornyak, this claim should be treated with considerable caution.

The Russian Ministry of Defense provided the following statement:

“Tonight the Armed Forces of Ukraine carried out an attempt to attack the naval base in Novorossiysk by two unmanned sea boats. In the course of repelling the attack, the unmanned boats were detected and destroyed by fire from the standard weapons of Russian ships guarding the outer harbor of the naval base.”

In the meantime, more videos and photos have emerged revealing the degree of damage sustained by the Olenegorsky Gornyak.

Initial satellite imagery of the Olenegorsky Gornyak, from Planet Labs, shows the landing ship now moored at the Novorossiysk naval base and still listing to port. At least one image also shows what appears to be an oil leak coming from the vessel.

Contact the author: