A suspected Ukrainian naval drone has washed up on a beach in Crimea, suggesting Kiev has been gathering intelligence on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.
It is possible that the ship contains an explosive that can be detonated by ramming Russian ships or submarines.
The unmarked vessel – containing cameras and other electronic equipment – was found on a beach in Omega Bay, close to the Sevastopol naval base in the Crimean peninsula, which was illegally annexed by Russia in 2014.
The discovery of the device, about 150 nautical miles from Ukrainian waters, could explain Russia’s recent decision to move its Kilo-class attack submarines from its base in Sevastopol to Novorossiysk, in Krasnodar Krai, southern Russia.
Earlier this week, Britain’s defense intelligence agency said the move was “most likely due to the recent change in the local security threat level in light of increased Ukraine’s long-range attack capability”.
Defense experts judged this to be a reference to Ukrainian long-range artillery and missile systems. That opinion can be changed in the light of the previously unseen craft.
The unmanned surface craft (USV) is believed to be about the size of a kayak and is powered by a single inboard engine with a steerable waterjet propulsion system.
A mast-mounted camera can probably work day and night. A fixed panel behind the mast would be a flat antenna, for communication and navigation.
There are two forward-facing sensors in the bow of the USV, which may act as a trigger mechanism for an explosive in the drone.
The range of electronic devices suggests the craft would have been able to film Russian surface and submarine naval vessels, providing accurate locations for a subsequent missile strike.
With such a low profile, the USV would probably have been very difficult for Russian radar systems to identify in open water.
Mechanical failure or a loss of communication could be the cause of the run aground at the naval base.
According to local media, Russian officials towed the USV out to sea and destroyed it with explosives. Destruction of the drone suggests officials knew or suspected it contained explosives.
Mikhail Razvozhaev, the Russian-installed governor of the area, was quoted as saying by local media: “Part of an unmanned vehicle has been discovered [and] examined by experts.
“After the investigation was completed, this device was destroyed at sea by an explosion. No one was injured.”
The Ukrainian government has not commented on the find.
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