A Ukrainian attack on the port of Sevastopol in Crimea in the early hours of September 13 reportedly struck a Russian submarine and a landing ship, with both cruise missiles and drone boats used in the strike. The ships hit in the latest strike included a Kilo class diesel electric attack submarine, the warship Rostov on Don, and a Ropucha Class landing ship the Minsk. The degree of damage to the two ships remains uncertain, with some reports speculating that the Ropucha Class ship may have been damaged beyond repair. Home to the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet, Sevastopol is the largest city on the Crimean Peninsula – a territory both Russia and Ukraine claim but which has been under Russian control since early 2014. While Crimea has been attacked multiple times over the past year using a very wide range of asset classes, the specific target of the latest strike was the Ordzhonikidze ship repair facility, which according to unnamed Western and Ukrainian sources was hit by British supplied Storm Shadow air launched cruise missiles. The British Ministry of Defence has notably refrained from commenting on the claim, although Storm Shadows integrated onto Ukraine’s Soviet built fighters have been widely used for strikes on Russian frontline positions. The missiles have suffered from declining effectiveness, however, as increasingly sophisticated countermeasure have been developed.
Kilo Class submarines are Russia’s sole diesel electric ships of their kind, and are favoured for use in the Black Sea due to confinement of the area of operations – which makes the higher endurances of heavier nuclear powered ships redundant. The class is among the quietest in the world, and has accordingly been widely termed ‘Black Hole’ by Western analysts. While during the Cold War the Black Sea was considered a relatively secure region for the Soviet Navy, the absorption of the former Warsaw Pact states into NATO, and subsequent absorption of Ukraine into the Western sphere of influence, has made the water body among the most hotly contested in the world. Russia notably relies heavily on asymmetric anti ship cruise missile assets including both shore based systems such as the Bastion and air launched missiles like the Kh-32 to deny Western surface fleets the ability to operate in the region in the event of a major war. Ukraine’s lack of any major surface naval assets, however, has allowed it to itself employ asymmetric assets such as cruise missiles and low cost drones to engage key Russian targets – with comparable targets in the Ukrainian Navy being few and far between for Russia to retaliate against.