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23/05/22: Drone Ships Poised To Play Important Role In Russia-Ukraine War

The Russia-Ukraine war has featured more drone technology than any previous war. Indeed, part of Ukraine’s initial success is due to their effective usage of the Bayraktar TB2 aerial drones. Meanwhile, the inability of the Russians to successfully deploy their drones has resulted in numerous tactical failures. However, much of the discussion on drones has been focused on air-based assets. A different set of drones — unmanned surface vessels (USV) — are posed to also play a critical role in the war going forward.

These systems, commonly referred to as drone ships, are naval vessels that can operated remotely, often with a high degree of autonomy. Following the recent shipment of military aid to Ukraine, the Pentagon released that it included USV systems. The Pentagon also stated that they have provided training to the Ukrainian military on how to use these systems.

Although, there was no detail as to the type or number of these devices provided to Ukraine, they are likely systems currently used by the U.S. Navy, which is making a large effort to develop USVs over a range of sizes. The larger USVs, such as the Leidos Sea Hunter, are intended to perform long-term missions currently performed by manned Navy ships. Meanwhile, smaller USV systems are intended primarily for intelligence gathering, communication relays, and mine sweeping. The USVs provided to Ukraine are likely the smaller class of USV systems, given that they are more technically mature.

One candidate system provided to Ukraine is the Common USV built by Textron. This system is approximately the size of a standard patrol boat at approximately 10 m in length. These USVs can carry a customizable payload based on the mission set, including potentially weapons. The systems can achieve speeds of 30 mph with a cruising range of 1,200 nautical miles.

Another likely candidate system is the Mantas T-12 built by MARTAC. This system is fairly small at 3.6 m in length with a payload of 63.5 kg. These USVs are intended primarily for intelligence gathering, have a range between 23 and 60 nautical miles, and can achieve speeds of 50 mph. The Mantas T-12 have been featured in several recent joint naval exercises between the US and Bahrain.

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