A suspected Ukrainian navy drone has washed up on a beach in Crimea, sparking suggestions that Kyiv has been gathering intelligence on Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.
It is possible the vessel contained an explosive device to be detonated by ramming Russian ships or submarines.
The unmarked vessel – carrying cameras and other electronic equipment – was found on a beach at Omega Bay, close to the Sevastopol naval base on the Crimea peninsula, illegally annexed by Russia in 2014.
The discovery of the device, around 150 nautical miles from Ukrainian-held waters, may explain why Russia took the recent decision to move its Kilo-Class attack submarines from the Sevastopol base to Novorossiysk, in Krasnodar Krai, southern Russia.
Earlier this week, Britain’s defence intelligence agency said the move was “highly likely due to the recent change in the local security threat level in the face of increased Ukrainian long-range strike capability”.
Defence experts assessed this to be a reference to Ukrainian long-range artillery and missile systems. That view may be changed in light of the previously unseen vessel.
The uncrewed surface vessel (USV) is thought to be about the size of a kayak and powered by a single inboard motor with a steerable waterjet propulsion system.
A mast-mounted camera is likely able to operate by day and night. A fixed panel behind the mast is thought to be a flat antenna, for communication and navigation.
There are two forward-facing sensors in the bow of the USV, which could be trigger mechanisms for an explosive device located in the drone.
The range of electronic devices suggest the craft would have been capable of filming Russian surface and submarine naval vessels, providing accurate locations for a subsequent missile attack.
With such a low profile, it is likely the USV would have been very difficult for Russian radar systems to identify in open water.
Mechanical failure or a loss of communications could account for it running aground near the naval base.
Local media reports said Russian officials towed the USV out to sea and destroyed it using explosives. Destruction of the drone suggests officials either knew or suspected it contained explosives.
Mikhail Razvozhaev, the Russian-installed governor of the area, was quoted by local media as saying: “A part of an unmanned vehicle was discovered and examined by experts.
“After the survey was complete this apparatus was destroyed at sea by an explosion. No one was hurt.”
The Ukrainian government has not commented on the find.