How Ukraine, without warships, is frustrating the Russian Navy | ET REALITY

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In a small office hidden in the port city of Odessa, the commander of the Ukrainian Navy keeps two trophies representing successes in the Black Sea.

One is the cap of the missile tube used in April 2022 to sink the flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, the Moskva, a devastating blow that helped scare Russian warships off the Ukrainian coast. On the cover is a painting of a Ukrainian soldier raising his middle finger to the ship as it bursts into flames.

The other is a key used to assemble a British-made Storm Shadow missile that crashed into the Russian fleet headquarters in Sevastopol on the Crimean peninsula.

“We dreamed of making a beautiful recreational park for children in this place, to eliminate the center of evil that now exists,” said Vice Admiral Oleksiy Neizhpapa, a Ukrainian naval commander.

He had the key in his hand, and though his eyes were tired, he said there was nothing to do but fight.

“Sevastopol is my hometown,” he said. “For me it is my small homeland, where I was born, where my children were born. “Then, of course, I dream of the time coming, I hope soon, when we return to our naval base in Sevastopol.”

Despite not having its own warships, Ukraine has changed the balance of power in the naval conflict throughout the war. Its use of unmanned maritime drones and its growing arsenal of long-range anti-ship missiles, along with critical surveillance provided by Western allies and targeted strikes by the Ukrainian Air Force and special operations forces, have allowed Ukraine to mitigate the advantages of the much more powerful Russian Navy.

“Right now, the Russian Black Sea Fleet is primarily what naval strategists call ‘a fleet in existence’: it represents a potential threat that needs to be closely monitored, but remains under control for now,” said Scott Savitz. . senior engineer at the RAND Corporation, a federally funded center that conducts research for the United States military. “Surprisingly, Ukraine has achieved all this without a substantial fleet of its own.”

Admiral Neizhpapa warned that Ukraine remains severely outgunned in the Black Sea. It lacks the battlecruisers, destroyers, frigates and submarines that populate the Russian fleet. Russian aircraft still dominate the skies over the sea, and Russia still uses its fleet to launch long-range missiles at Ukrainian towns and cities, threatening both armed forces and civilians.

On Wednesday, a missile hit a commercial ship arriving at the port of Odessa, killing the pilot and injuring three crew members. It was the first civilian ship affected since shipments to Odessa resumed in late August.

The Russian Navy also dominates the Sea of ​​Azov, a body of water connected to the Black Sea by the Kerch Strait, and is increasingly using Azov ports in the occupied cities of Mariupol and Berdiansk to help alleviate logistical challenges in land.

However, Ukraine has managed to negate some of those advantages and has recently gone on the offensive. In the past two months, it has launched both stealthy night operations with small units on jet skis and powerful missile strikes. These attacks have reached not only the Sevastopol headquarters but also a Kilo-class submarine and a shipbuilding plant in eastern Crimea, an attack that damaged a new Russian missile-carrying warship.

This latest attack “will likely cause Russia to consider moving further from the front line,” he said. The British military intelligence agency reported On Wednesday.

Ukrainian officials also said the Russian attack on a civilian ship as it arrived at the port of Odessa would not stop shipping. According to Western and Ukrainian officials, around 100 cargo ships carrying more than 3.3 million tons of agricultural and metal products have made the journey in just over two months.

Even as forward movement on the ground has largely ground to a halt, with neither Russian nor Ukrainian forces able to break through heavily fortified lines, Ukraine has effectively converted around 10,000 square miles of the western Black Sea off its southern coast. in what the military calls a “gray zone” where neither side can navigate without the threat of attack.

And Admiral Neizhpapa stressed that Ukraine’s combined armed forces and its security services were playing an integral role in the Black Sea battle.

James Heappey, Britain’s Armed Forces Minister, told a recent security conference in Warsaw that the Russian Black Sea Fleet had suffered a “functional defeat” and argued that the liberation of Ukraine’s coastal waters in the Black Sea was “as important” as the successful ground counteroffensives in Kherson and Kharkiv last year.

Warfare at sea has also demonstrated the impact of emerging technologies, transforming long-held theories about naval warfare in ways that are being studied around the world, perhaps nowhere more closely than in China and Taiwan.

“The classical approach we study at military maritime academies no longer works,” Admiral Neizhpapa said. “Therefore, we have to be as flexible as possible and change work planning and implementation approaches as much as possible.”

For example, he said, it takes years to develop and build warships and more time to upgrade them to meet new challenges. However, maritime drones are evolving every month.

Admiral Neizhpapa acknowledged that Russian air superiority over the Black Sea is a problem and highlighted the value that F-16 fighter jets would bring to Ukraine’s naval war. The United States has promised F-16s, but Ukrainian officials have said they are unlikely to be seen in Ukrainian skies before next summer.

Russia’s main response to setbacks at sea has been a relentless bombing campaign aimed at crippling Ukrainian port infrastructure and punishing the people of Odessa. In recent weeks, its naval planes have been dropping “mine-like objects” in the shipping lanes from Odessa, the admiral said, but the shipment has not stopped.

“Of course, they want to stop our initiative by all means,” he said. “But we think they won’t get it.”

While much of the focus over the past 20 months has been on the land war, the largest in Europe since World War II, the desire to control the Black Sea was a key factor in President Vladimir V. Putin’s decision. to invade Ukraine. In 2014, when Russia illegally annexed Crimea, Ukraine lost almost all of its ships; about 5,000 of his sailors deserted, Downsizing your navy. in two thirds.

Despite Ukraine’s recent escalation of attacks, Crimea still functions as a massive aircraft carrier parked off Ukraine’s southern coast. It is a critical logistics hub for Russian occupation forces in the south, a base for Russian fighter jets and attack helicopters, and a platform to launch missile and drone attacks across Ukraine.

Admiral Neizhpapa likes to quote an adage from Alfred Thayer Mahanthe famous American historian and naval officer: “A nation must defend its own coast starting from the coast of the enemy.”

For the admiral, who left the peninsula in 2014 with other sailors who remained loyal to Ukraine, that means taking the war to Crimea.

However, Russia is also adapting and strengthening its defenses.

“What we did a year ago is no longer working or not working as effectively,” Admiral Neizhpapa said. “We have to be flexible and change our tactics.”

Ukraine must not only innovate, he said, but also deploy new weapons quickly. Ukraine has introduced several versions of unmanned surface ships, and officials recently offered a glimpse of what they said was Ukraine’s first unmanned underwater vehicle.

baptized Marichka and at about 20 feet from bow to stern, the ship can travel beneath the surface of waves for more than 600 miles, although the size of its payload has not been made public and there is no evidence that it has been used in combat.

About two dozen Russian ships and one submarine have been damaged or destroyed since Russia launched its full-scale invasion, Admiral Neizhpapa said. Oryx, a military analysis site which only counts losses it has visually confirmed, has documented at least 16 damaged or destroyed ships.

Standing in front of a classified map listing damage done to Russian vessels, Admiral Neizhpapa said he had no time for what he called “intentional sinking,” any exaggeration of what Ukraine has achieved.

There are still dozens of powerful Russian warships that Ukraine wants to take off the board. On Friday, Ukraine’s intelligence agency released a video of a naval drone attack on two ships that he said played an important role in the layered air defenses protecting the Russian fleet. The extent of the damage was unclear.

“The enemy also learns very quickly and draws its own conclusions, countering our actions,” Admiral Neizhpapa said. “The war at sea can only be won with new solutions that must be implemented as quickly as possible.”

Anna Lukinova, Nataliia Novosolova and Anastasia Kuznietsova contributed reports.

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