Ukraine's New USV Compared
On September 21 a previously unreported USV (uncrewed surface vessel) was found on a beach outside a Russian Navy base in the Black Sea. The small, low-profile design appears to be a form of uncrewed explosive boat. Although unconfirmed, there is an understanding that it is Ukrainian. Its conceptual simplicity combined with relative sophistication set it apart from previous explosive boats.
Explosive boats go back to the American Civil War. Confederate 'David' class boats rammed Union warships with spar torpedoes. In World war One, Germany evolved the idea to use a remote-controlled design, the Fernlenkboot. This design wasn't successful, being too far ahead of its time. By World war Two the Italians had developed explosive boats into an art. Small yet powerful speed boats, the pilot bailed out the back on a life raft before impact. These were moderately successful and the concept has been copied since. For a more complete list, see this guide.
The Ukrainian explosive USV
Much more recently, the Houthi Movement in Yemen has brought explosive boats up to date. With Iranian help they have developed a series of uncrewed explosive boats. The first ones used converted speedboat hulls, while later ones employ smaller purpose-designed hulls.
Compared to the Houthi types the Ukrainian design is smaller and lower profile. The Houthis' include a cockpit so that a pilot can drive it to its starting position. The Ukrainian process is completely uncrewed, although it can be towed by another craft.
Houthi explosive boats observed during a military parade in Yemen on September 22 2022. Image via Joshua Koontz (Twitter).
The exact specifications are not available. But it is likely that the Ukrainian and Houthi types have similar performance and warheads. The Ukrainian one however has a water jet, while the Houthi types rely on outboard motors.
Uncrewed explosive boats seem intuitively sensible, an obvious development. Being uncrewed de-risks many operations, making them virtually expendable. Major navies have shied away from these types of systems, generally seen as desperation weapons. But in war they suddenly appear obvious, like an idea everyone will say they knew but no one mentioned. It does not seem far fetched to say that soon almost every navy will have equivalent systems.
The USV was towed out to sea and blown up.