Russia Navy concerned vital supply ships vulnerable to Ukraine attack -UK

After an attack on the Russian Novorssiysk port, allegedly by Ukrainian naval drones, the Black Sea Fleet is concerned about the ships from Sevastapol.

 Russian warships leave a port during naval drills, which are staged by the Baltic Fleet forces of the Russian Navy, part of the military exercises Zapad-2021 opened by Russia and Belarus, in the Baltic Sea town of Baltiysk in Kaliningrad Region, Russia September 9, 2021 (photo credit: REUTERS/VITALY NEVAR)
Russian warships leave a port during naval drills, which are staged by the Baltic Fleet forces of the Russian Navy, part of the military exercises Zapad-2021 opened by Russia and Belarus, in the Baltic Sea town of Baltiysk in Kaliningrad Region, Russia September 9, 2021
(photo credit: REUTERS/VITALY NEVAR)

Russian naval commanders are likely concerned about its vital amphibious landing ships being vulnerable to Ukrainian attack after the Russian port that much of the Black Sea Fleet relocated to was attacked, the United Kingdom Defense Ministry said in a Tuesday intelligence update.

According to the UK Defense Ministry, after the Russian Sevastopol naval base in Crimea was struck by Ukraine, the Russian Black Sea Fleet moved many of its submarines and other vessels to Novorssiysk, a Russian port city just east of the disputed peninsula. 

However, conflicting Russian and Ukrainian media reports told of an attack against a Novorssiysk oil terminal. The fleet base is close to this terminal, the intelligence update said.

"Full details of this incident are yet to emerge," said the ministry. "However, any demonstration of a Ukrainian capability to threaten Novorssiysk would highly likely represent a further strategic challenge for the BSF."

In particular, the Russian Navy is likely concerned about "threats to the Novorssiysk-based amphibious landing ship flotilla. These vessels are relatively vulnerable without escorts and have assumed a more important role in supplying Russian forces in Ukraine since the Kerch Bridge was damaged in October."

Russian missile cruiser Moskva is moored in the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Sevastopol, Ukraine, May 10, 2013. (credit: REUTERS/STRINGER/FILE PHOTO)Russian missile cruiser Moskva is moored in the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Sevastopol, Ukraine, May 10, 2013. (credit: REUTERS/STRINGER/FILE PHOTO)

"Russian commanders will likely be concerned about threats to the Novorssiysk-based amphibious landing ship flotilla."

UK Defense Ministry

Threat to Russian supply lines

The Kerch Bridge, which connects Crimea to the Russian mainland, was attacked on October 8 in a massive explosion. The attack further intensified Russian logistical and supply issues, which have plagued the Kremlin since the war began on February 24.

The UK said landing ships have been used to reinforce supply lines. In early June, Russian media claimed that 12 landing vessels were at the disposal of the Black Sea Fleet. Such vessels were used to supply Russian troops in the battles to take Mariupol but proved to be vulnerable when the Saratov was destroyed in Berdyansk as it was unloading ammunition in March.  

Experts previously related to The Jerusalem Post that such ships are highly vulnerable to anti-ship missiles. The fleet's flagship the Moskva was famously sunk when struck by a pair of Ukrainian-made Neptune missiles. 

Since the attack, Ukraine has received more advanced surface-to-sea guided missiles, such as Harpoons. Russian naval forces, wary of the range of the weapons, have kept their distance from the coast but continued to bombard Ukrainian coastal civilian centers and military positions with Kalibr cruise missiles. Russian media noted a Monday Telegraph report that British Brimstone 2 missiles would be supplied to Ukraine. According to the report maritime versions of the weapon exist.

As of late October, Russia has been reducing its Black Sea guided missile boat commitments, often only having one Kalibr-carrying ship on active duty. On Monday the Ukrainian Navy said that Russia had seven ships, including one carrying cruise missiles, in the Black Sea. 

On Tuesday, by the Ukrainian Defense Ministry's count, Russia had lost 16 vessels since the war began.

Ukraine's unmanned surface vessels

The UK's intelligence assessment holds that the attack on Novorssiysk could "further undermine Russia’s already reduced maritime influence in the Black Sea." 

Ukrainian media reported that the Friday attack was conducted using unmanned surface vessels (USVs). Russian state media outlets denied earlier local reports of a naval drone attack. 

"These reports do not reflect reality," Russian oil giant Transneft spokesman Igor Demin told TASS. "There was no marine drone attack on the Sheskharis oil harbor. Hence, there is no damage to it."

Aerial and maritime drones were used in an attack on the Sevastapol naval base in October. Russian media claimed that the attack against its naval vessels was repelled, but Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova blasted alleged UK training for the attack, which she described as terrorism.

According to RAND naval weapons expert Scott Savitz, Ukraine's use of kamikaze maritime drones has inaugurated a new age of naval warfare.

While ships can survive anti-ship missiles or suicide UAVS, Savitz said in a RAND blog commentary, USVs can strike at vulnerable spots at the waterline and carry a larger explosive payload.