A Black Sea Nessie?

Photographs of a mysterious sea-going craft that ran ashore, allegedly in the vicinity of Sevastopol, have recently emerged on the Internet. With an estimated length of about three metres, the low-slung device is very reminiscent of the semi-submersible craft used by drug smugglers in the Caribbean to sit as low as possible on the water to avoid coast guard radar detection. With the difference that this mysterious boat is non inhabited. For all intents and purposes is it a surface drone.

By Eric H. Biass — September 23, 2022 —

The Israelis have pioneered the development and use of such water surface drones, but their role is essentially restricted to surveillance and patrol missions where the stealth element is not required.  They are hence based on semi-rigid inflatable boats and even jet-skis, with masts enabling aerials and cameras to stand clear of sea projections.

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Here, given the necessarily stealthy nature of the mission – reconnaissance and/or attack – all such devices have to remain as concealed as possible, including a camera affixed to a stub mast. But how is it guided then, knowing that if the device is allegedly Ukrainian, it would need to be line-of-sight controlled over a distance of 300km across the sea from the Ukrainian shores to Sevastopol, which is impossible given the curvature of the Earth, not to mention the transmission of images.

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A closer look at the picture however, shows that the foredeck of the device is equipped with a succession of three generously sized wave-breakers to prevent water from washing over the aft part of the boat, and for a good reason: the only option to control the boat over such a range and enable it to use satellite navigation and send its images is to use a satellite up/downlink, which totally precludes the presence of any heavy layer of water. What appears to be a set of flat aerials (probably GPS) can be seen near the transom while the satcom aerial could well be hidden under the circular section radome  just ahead of it. If the system is, as alleged by the Russians, of Ukrainian origin (and thus carrying Western innards) chances are that it operates via the  Starlink satellite network.

Eric H. Biass – Photo © E-S

This remains quite plausible as Mr. Musk’s communications service already seems to have been put to good use by the Ukrainian special forces to thwart the Russian invasion of Kiev in the very early stages of the conflict.

The craft probably ran ashore due to totally drained batteries. Fearing that the boat might be filled with explosives, which the presence of what could be two nose-mounted pressure actuators render plausible for an anti-ship mission, the Russians claimed to have destroyed the entire system. This however remains hard to believe given the mouth-watering technologic solutions it might incorporate.    

Eric H. Biass