Ukraine Claims TB2 Drones Sunk Russian Patrol Boats Off Snake Island (Updated)

The Ukrainian military claims to have used its Turkish-supplied TB2 drones to destroy a pair of Russian patrol craft in the Black Sea.

byThomas Newdick| PUBLISHED May 2, 2022 1:05 PM
Ukraine Claims TB2 Drones Sunk Russian Patrol Boats Off Snake Island (Updated)
TB2 boat strike. Ukraine MOD
Share

A dramatic video has been shared online showing the apparent destruction of two Russian Navy Raptor class patrol boats in the Black Sea. The version of the video published by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense clearly shows explosions on two different boats, interspersed with imagery of the Ukrainian-operated, Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drone, to which it attributes the strikes. As such, the incident may well mark the first time that the TB2 unmanned aerial vehicle has been used to sink naval vessels in any conflict.

The video was posted to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense’s social media channels earlier today, with a timestamp in the corner of the targeting imagery indicating it was taken the same day. The Ministry says that the attack took place just after dawn near the now-famous Snake Island, around 20 miles off the Ukrainian coast, near the Danube Delta. It was here that Ukrainian border guards refused a Russian demand to surrender at the beginning of the war and addressed the crew of the Russian Navy cruiser Moskva instead with the now-iconic phrase “Russian warship, go fuck yourself!” That incident has since attained a near-legendary status, only amplified by the subsequent sinking of the Russian cruiser.

Location of Snake Island in the Black Sea. Google Earth

Independent geolocation of a portion of the footage suggests that at least one of the vessels was destroyed in this area. This is not the first instance of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense or Ukrainian Armed Forces providing something like an official stamp of approval to clips already circulating and not even the first occasion involving the TB2.

A tweet today from the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense made direct reference to the previous incident at Snake Island, quoting the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian Army, Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, as saying: “Ukrainian Bayraktar TB2 sent two Russian patrol boats to f..k themselves at dawn today. Snakes at Snake Island now have new amusements facilities.”

While the type of patrol boats shown in the video is not immediately obvious, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense claims they were Project 03160 Raptor class craft, high-speed coastal vessels that are very similar in appearance and concept to the Swedish CB90 class fast assault craft. Another similar craft, the Project 02510, or BK-16 high-speed assault boat, is also in Russian service. Notably, at least one of the craft that were successfully attacked today is seen moving at what appears to be fairly high speed — the Raptor class has a reported top speed of 48 knots, although this is heavily dependent on sea state.

The approximately 55-foot-long Raptor class is well adapted for special operations and riverine missions and can transport up to 20 troops as well as its crew of two to three. Typical armament comprises a remotely operated 14.5mm Kord heavy machine gun and a pair of 7.62mm machine guns. The craft has already been reported as having been used in the war prior to today, including for offensive operations.

A Project 03160 Raptor class patrol boat. Andrewrabbott/Wikimedia Commons

The TB2 drone is already something of a signature weapon of the war in Ukraine, its prominence buoyed by a determined propaganda campaign. The video showing the boats’ demise does appear to match that gathered by the TB2’s electro-optical sensors. While there is no independent verification of the use of TB2s in this incident, it’s hard to see what other platforms might have been responsible.

A Ukrainian TB2 drone with MAM-series precision-guided munitions seen under its wing. Ukrainian Ministry of Defense

The TB2 drone is typically armed with the Turkish-made MAM series of small laser-guided bombs, examples of which are seen under the wings of the TB2 in the video, although this is very likely stock footage, rather than having been taken during the course of the mission.

It’s not entirely clear how many TB2s are currently operational in Ukraine, where deliveries began in 2019, with small fleets going to the Air Force and Navy. There has certainly been attrition in the war so far, with extensive claims of TB2 kills from the Russian side and confirmed evidence of the destruction of at least seven examples.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that Ukraine has made a previous claim of having successfully destroyed a Raptor class boat using an anti-tank missile launched from the shore, although it can’t be confirmed that the craft in question was sunk. Subsequent reports suggest it was likely only damaged.

At the other end of the scale, the Ukrainian military and U.S. defense officials have both said the Russian Navy’s Project 1164 Slava class cruiser Moskva was sunk by a pair of domestically-developed Neptune anti-ship cruise missiles. However, the exact circumstances that ultimately led up to this sinking are still murky. There were also unconfirmed reports that a TB2 might have been involved in some way, such as tracking the ship or even providing targeting information. Regardless, the fact that TB2s are operating in the vicinity of Snake Island, working well beyond the line of sight and striking targets far out to sea, does point to the possibility that the drones were involved in the Moskva incident in some way. By the same token, it could also be further evidence of TB2s being used in reported attacks in Russia’s border areas with Ukraine.

TB2s were also identified as possible candidates for the destruction of the Russian Navy’s Project 1171 Alligator class landing ship Saratov (originally reported as Orsk), which was set ablaze in the Russian-occupied port of Berdyansk on the Sea of Azov. Again, there’s absolutely no firm evidence of this and it seems more likely that the ship was the victim of an accidental fire.

Whatever the specifics of how the two Russian patrol craft were sunk, their loss, like that of the Moskva, will have significant propaganda and morale-boosting value for the Ukrainians. Not only does the incident reveal again that Russian naval activity in the Black Sea can be threatened by Ukrainian actions, but there is added significance in the fact that the attacks apparently took place close to Snake Island.

If, as claimed, it was munitions launched from one or more TB2 drones that resulted in two ship kills earlier today, that is also a significant event in itself. There are few, if any, recorded incidents of strikes by unmanned aerial vehicles resulting in the sinking of an enemy vessel in wartime, and certainly not involving the TB2, although it’s something that has been tested in the past.

Finally, while the Raptor class patrol boat is not well-equipped to deal with any kind of airstrike, the apparent ability of TB2 drones to press home an attack in the Black Sea must be of concern to the Russians, suggesting gaps in their maritime air defenses, which will likely have only worsened since the loss of the Moskva and its heavy anti-air armament. Snake Island itself, according to reports, should have its own ground-based air defenses, including short-range missiles and anti-aircraft guns, although Ukraine claims to have destroyed at least some of these in recent days through artillery bombardment.

Ultimately, craft like the Raptor, or indeed any smaller surface combatants with limited air defense capabilities, require other friendly assets to control the air so they can operate safely. This also points to broader concerns about the proliferation of armed drones in the naval environment and the threat they pose to warships of various sizes. While we await more details of today’s incident, it will likely only increase the urgency for other navies to develop and field more capable anti-drone defenses when operating in littoral areas.

Update:

Here is a longer version of the video:

Contact the author: thomas@thedrive.com

stripe