Estonian navy officer: Ukraine using drones as alternative to naval fleet

Cdr. Ott Laanemets.
Cdr. Ott Laanemets. Source: ERR

The Ukrainian maritime drone strikes against Russia's Black Sea fleet are expected to continue, as Kyiv does not have a combat-capable naval fleet of its own, said Cdr. Ott Laanemets, head of the Estonian Navy's (Merevägi) mine warfare division.

Speaking on ETV show "Ukraina stuudio," Cdr. Laanemets said that Ukraine cannot be expected to achieve a breakthrough via traditional maritime warfare, as the balance of power is too greatly stacked in Russia's favor. The Russian forces have a functioning naval fleet, while Ukraine does not.

Recently, however, Ukraine has been very active in the Black Sea, and has recaptured the "Boyko" oil towers "Petro Godovalets" and "Ukraine," as well as the "Tavrida" and "Svyash" drilling platforms. During this operation, the Ukrainians reportedly gained possession of Russian ammunition and a NEVA-B surface radar, while also damaging a Russian Sukhoi Su-30 fighter aircraft. These gas and oil platforms had been under Russian control since 2015.

Laanemets explained that these platforms have mainly been used for surveillance and intelligence gathering.

"This week's news that the Ukrainians have recaptured this is also perhaps more information, because the Russians were not there. True, their equipment was. And the Ukrainians didn't stay there either. They picked up the Russians' equipment. What they left there, we don't know," he said.

According to Laanemets, these platforms are also useful for Ukraine's monitoring of Russian activities. However, they are not suitable for use as weapons platforms.

"It increases (Ukraine's ) field of vision. First of all, it took the away the enemy's eyes from that side and increases (Ukraine's) visibility regarding attacks coming in towards the Ukrainian mainland, as well as of Russia's actions at sea, should the Ukrainians have some kind of naval operation coming up," he explained.

Last week, Ukraine attacked a Russian-docked destroyer and submarine. Laanemets said that the attack had no direct impact on Russia's military campaign, as the ships were not in use at the time.

According to Laanemets, the attacked landing ship was being used by Russia for logistics, meaning there was a slight impact on that side of Russia's operations. "However, again, there are around ten of these ships, two have now been damaged, and there are eight more. Plus, an uncountable number of what seem to be cargo ships, controlled by the Russian state. So there is perhaps no major reduction in their logistical capacity," Laanemets added.

According to Laanemets, Russia now has only three submarines remaining in the Black Sea. Since there has been no naval action, Laanemets said the submarines can be used for coastal reconnaissance. However, Ukraine has ruled this possibility out by mining its own coastlines.

"The same area where Snake Island and the gas platforms are, is now under Ukrainian control, and is also covered by fire from the land. Russia can no longer go there with a surface ship to drop anything along the shore. It can only be accessed from that area with submarines. So the impact of the (Ukrainian attack) is definitely there," he said.

Ukraine is using maritime drones in the Black Sea because it lacks a combat-capable fleet, Laanemets said.

"Ukraine does not have a combat-capable fleet. They have alternative, asymmetric means, which have some chance of success. Maybe if you fire ten drones at one ship, three, four, five will get through and if this makes a hole in it, then that ship will be out of the game for a while," he explained.

According to Laanemets, detecting in-coming drones requires a great deal of vigilance and discipline from the crews of Russia's warships.

"Because they are small, they are moving on the water, so to detect them using a regular surface surveillance radar, which is built to detect ships anyway, they might be a bit small, so you may end up detecting them too late. That's why it's vitally important that you have people on deck - eyes, ears, binoculars watching at all times- and all your armaments at the ready. This requires a very high level of preparedness from the crews of all the ships and obviously that will ultimately have some psychological effect, that you are constantly prepared to the maximum in case suddenly something comes up again," Laanemets said.


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Editor: Michael Cole

Source: "Ukraina stuudio", interviewer Reimo Sildvee

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