The Russian-Ukrainian war is increasingly becoming a testing ground for the use of different types of drones in various fields. As the world has witnessed the effectiveness of unmanned systems since the beginning of war, the recent attack shows for the first time that floating munitions can also be effective in naval warfare.

On November 04, 2022, Russian news agency Ria Novosty shared a video on its Telegram channel showing Russian forces hitting a Ukrainian Gyruza-M class patrol boat with Lancet vagrancy ammunition.

According to the footage, the gunboat was stationary and its engines appeared to be shut down, and the Lancet drone struck the vessel on the port side. Although the location of the attack has not been officially confirmed by either party, respected Twitter user “Capt_Navy”, who is a former Russian Navy officer, claimed that the incident happened in the waters of the Kakhovsky Reservoir (on the Dnieper) .

Last week, Ukrainian forces carried out a surprise attack on Russian Black Sea Fleet ships by simultaneously deploying unmanned surface vessels (USVs) and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). We reported this incident as the first use of USVs with kamikaze capability in conventional warfare. The Russian attack on a ship with lurking ammunition is also a first.

The threat of Russian drones showed its importance during Russia’s surprise drone attack on the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, on October 17, 2022. The Ukrainian Air Force reported that 43 suicide bombers were used in the attack, 28 of which attacked the capital. Three weeks after this attack, a drone targeting a ship was used for the first time in naval warfare.

In August 2021, an explosive-laden Iranian disposable drone attacked an Israeli-operated tanker off the coast of Oman. While this incident, reported by US Central Command, demonstrated that suicide bombers and stray munitions pose a new threat to ships, the Russian attack on the Gyruza M-class patrol vessel was recorded as the first ordnance attack wanderers (LM) against a warship. .

Vagrant Ammo: A new weapon in Naval Warfare

Maritime version of the HAROP roving ammunition (photo IAI)

Because it provides a cost-effective means of attack, marines have become more interested in using roving ammunition. In 2021, IAI has announced a contract with an unnamed Asian country for the naval version of the HAROP vagrancy ammunitionwhile the United States Navy awarded Raytheon a $32 million contract for the Coyote Block 3 (CB3) Autonomous Strike – an accelerated project to achieve capability to launch Unmanned Surface Vessels (USV) and Unmanned Underwater Vehicle (UUV). The concept of operations and tactics, techniques and procedures envisaged aims to provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities and precision strikes from maritime platforms.

Floating munitions fill a gap between cruise missiles and unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) and share several characteristics with both. But they have differences. A stray munition is not like a cruise missile because it is designed to stay in one place for a long period of time, and it cannot be compared to an unmanned combat aerial vehicle because it is designed to attack and has an integrated warhead.

The loitering capability of these systems allows users to detect and track potential targets over an extended period of time before an attack occurs. Floating ammunition could allow greater accuracy compared to similar weapons.

The wandering ammunition are;

  • Airship, while many comparable munitions are not,
  • Cheaper than some guided munitions that provide a similar level of accuracy
  • Several models of Loitering ammunition have mid-course guidance, allowing operators to break off an attack in mid-air and land the aircraft safely.

Author’s opinion

Recent developments in terms of countries’ purchases of stray ammunition, and the use of these weapons in the most recent conflicts (or wars), such as in Karabakh or the Russian-Ukrainian war, have shown that kamikaze attacks with vagrant ammunition will be a solid part of countries in the future.

Of course, LMs are not as sophisticated as cruise missiles, but forces may be able to deploy hundreds of these drones for the cost of a single missile, and swarms of drones can overwhelm the defense system. enemy air. This saturation can have more catastrophic effects than a single missile on the enemy, but at the very least, it can open the door to future missile attacks.

Missiles are quite expensive weapons even for the richest countries. Although Russia is one of the largest missile producers in the world, even the country suffered from a shortage of guided missiles and started using LMs for small strikes.

Although relatively small and difficult to detect with old school radars (not AESA radars), LMs are not indefensible. A single LM is not a difficult target for a warship’s point defense missile system. But when deployed in a swarm configuration, the problem becomes more complicated.

Indeed, even air defense frigates have limited fire control channels (sensors) and weapons against them, and can engage several of the LMs at the same time. But if the enemy deploys dozens of LMs to attack a naval task force, it is almost impossible to destroy them all. And consuming air defense missiles, which cost more than a million dollars, against a 5000 USD drone is another problem. The ships’ missile arsenal may not be sufficient to repel a tense attack. In this case, the principle of “quality over quantity” could be reversed. Small fighters such as Fast Attacking Crafts or Patrol Boats have no chance against such swarm attacks as LMs can hit them even near the coast.

Russian Lancet loitering ordnance attack on Ukrainian gunboat marks first in naval warfare
Screenshot from IAI’s maritime HAROP video

Due to the explosive charge of these small drones, they are not enough to sink a large surface combatant but depending on the number and specs of the LMs, they can cause heavy damage to neutralize these ships.

Also, we must not forget that these weapons are flying means equipped with EO sensors. They can provide intelligence and assess targets before they strike. They can contribute to the recognized maritime picture, update targets for future missile strikes, provide battle damage assessments and improve maritime situational awareness.