May 14, 2022
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US “sea devils” are pushing Russia away from Serpentine and from Odessa

In the photo: an unmanned stealth boat of the MANTAS T-12 type.

In the photo: an unmanned stealth boat of the MANTAS T-12 type. (Photo: Zuma/TASS)

It has long been an undisputed fact: in recent months, the Americans have simply flooded the Ukrainian army with the most modern weapons. But the other day, something out of the ordinary happened in this area. The Pentagon has put at the disposal of Kyiv promising military means, which are only being tested so far. And which even the US military itself does not have.

We are talking about rather miniature unmanned stealth boats of the MANTAS T-12 type, not in vain named after the beautiful and creepy stingrays, long nicknamed “sea devils”. To control these floating robots, weighing only 95 kilograms each, according to the American site FedScoop (as it positions itself – the leading tech media brand in the federal government market), a group of Ukrainian military has already been trained at the US Naval Air Station Little Creek, Virginia.

The inevitable imminent appearance of the MANTAS T-12 in the Black Sea near Odessa will certainly bring new tension to the ongoing ominous events around the Snake Island. Yes, and in the entire northwestern part of this area. To understand – what? – we must first figure out what kind of thing this is, MANTAS T-12.

About why Ukrainians need new weapons, Pentagon envoy Rear Admiral John Kirby at a briefing he said this: “They (Russians – “SP”) used the marine environment to strike on land. They used the maritime environment to attack the mainland in terms of amphibious assaults. And they used the maritime environment to intimidate and… we think in some cases they tried to tie down the Ukrainian ground forces near Odessa.”

And further: “They (this time not Russian, but the MANTAS T-12 boats themselves, developed by the Americans as part of the “Lord of the Phantom Fleet” program – “SP”) were created in order to help Ukraine with coastal defense. And I think I’ll just leave it. I’m not going to go into specific possibilities.”

Well, if Rear Admiral Kirby is so laconic, we’ll have to fill the gap in information about the new weapon. And here’s what turns out.

The U.S. Department of Defense fact sheet, in another $800 million security aid package for Ukraine, named an unspecified number of “unmanned coastal defense ships” being provided to Ukrainians. Like most surface stealth drones in general, these are designed for reconnaissance (ISR), combating surface targets and for mine clearance.

It is worth noting that many countries are now carrying out similar developments. Including Russia. But our country, as far as one can judge from open data, has focused its main efforts not on surface, but on underwater drones. The strategic drone “Poseidon” (formerly known as “Status-6”), which has already been adopted by the Russian Navy and is equipped with a nuclear power plant, is able to covertly cross the oceans and strike at the enemy coast, no matter how far from us it is.

The first carrier of the Poseidons will be the Belgorod nuclear submarine, which was built specifically for them and was launched in April 2019.

However, it is precisely in the field of designing tactical surface uninhabited vehicles that, as far as one can judge from open sources, we have not gone as far as the Americans. It is all the more important to take a closer look at their “sea devils”, which, one might say, are already coming close to us through Ukraine.

So, MANTAS T-12 is the latest model in the MANTAS series of surface robots. Although well, how – “surface”? In this case, it looks pretty relative. Because in order to ensure stealth swimming, the body of the drone with a total length of 3.6 meters in length and 0.9 meters in width rises only 18 centimeters above the sea surface during the hike. However, it is able to rush at a decent speed – up to 40 knots. Seaworthiness up to 4 points. Cruising range – up to 120 miles.

It is clear that the relatively modest size does not allow to pile on this “sea devil” a lot of weapons. The entire estimated payload is only 63.5 kilograms. What can be included in it?

A miniature sonar capable of detecting both naval mines and submarines. Another is a magnetometer for the same purpose.

In principle, the States are now trying to adapt even small missiles designed to hit sea and air targets on surface drones. While we are talking about a small-sized supersonic anti-aircraft SM-6 with an active homing system (GOS AIM-120) at the final stage of the flight, which was successfully tested on June 24, 2008 at the White Sands training ground.

The cost is 4.3 million dollars apiece. The flight range is about 240 kilometers. On January 18, 2016, an SM-6 missile launched from a drone sank the decommissioned American frigate USS Reuben James during an exercise.

In our case, all this would look quite menacing for the Black Sea Fleet. Only the SM-6 is intended for completely different, much larger drone boats than the “sea devils” promised to Kyiv. So far, there are only two of them in the American “Ghost Fleet” – USV Ranger and USV Nomad. Both converted from fast commercial supply vessels.

And why then MANTAS T-12 on the beaches of Odessa? And how are they able to strengthen the coastal defenses of this city?

Perhaps the answer lies in the words Brian Clarkdirector of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Defense Concepts and Technology. In his opinion, those maritime drones that are sent to Ukraine are otherwise intended for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), as well as for mine action. “But I wouldn’t be surprised if the Ukrainians, when they start using them, think about how to put a deadly warhead on them,” he added.

And he continued: “After they receive these drones, the Ukrainians will be able to equip them as they wish. So I wouldn’t be surprised if the Ukrainians include maybe some weapons systems in there in case they want to use them to attack Russian ships.”

I have no doubt that it is for this MANTAS T-12 that the Americans and Ukrainians are now preparing. There are no abstruse hydroacoustic stations with magnetometers! Kyiv simply does not need them. Neither at Odessa, nor at Serpentine.

But the potential half a centner of hexogen or TNT mounted in the body of a high-speed drone – and we already have a controlled sea mine in front of us. In terms of the power of the charge, it is three times superior to the ancient, still Soviet anchor NM, with which the Ukrainians so recklessly and completely uselessly filled up their coastal waters in the Black Sea with the outbreak of hostilities.

Given the potential speed of 40 knots, it would be difficult for any of our surface ships to escape from such an attack. The only way to fight back is by using outdated RBU-6000 jet bombers and somewhat more advanced anti-submarine missile systems RPK-8 Zapad, which form the basis of the anti-submarine defense of the Black Sea frigates Admiral Essen and Admiral Makarov. It is they who, as far as is known, are now more active than others in those parts.

However, for the success of such a ship’s self-defense, there is one condition: given the dynamics of the “sea devils” attack, acoustics and radiometers should not “oversleep” it. If the commander of the Russian ship does not have confidence in this, he will have to stay away from the place of the potential release of the MANTAS T-12 into the sea. No closer than 60 miles. And from the Serpent’s Island, for which a serious struggle has now unfolded, to the Ukrainian coast, let me remind you, only about 15 miles. Which, of course, will add understandable difficulties to the Black Sea people in combat work.

In the United States, by the way, they intend to observe with great interest how, after the delivery of their surface stealth drones to Ukraine, military events will develop near the coast of this country. In essence, this is a continuation of the testing of promising US weapons in combat conditions.

He’s already been frank about it. Brent SadlerSenior Fellow for Naval Warfare and Advanced Technology at the US Heritage Foundation. He stated: “This is what allows us to better understand how we ourselves can use these systems in combat. So we are also learning. And we can benefit from the combat experience that the Ukrainians get on them. We are learning a lot. So I think we will also benefit by giving them that opportunity.”

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