At a U.S. Coast Guard base in Baltimore, Maryland, a training course has been completed for the fifth Ukrainian crew to serve on Island-type combat boats that the Americans have handed over to Ukraine to strengthen the country’s defense capabilities at sea. A solemn ceremony where the relevant certificates were issued to Ukrainian crews took place on Friday last week before three boats of this type – the Sumy, the Fastiv, and the Kubrak, will be deployed in Ukraine in November. But this is only one of the stages in the buildup of a new, powerful Ukrainian naval fleet. Next year, more modern boats, Mark VI, are expected to be handed to Ukraine. Although smaller in size, they are no worse armed and able to give a real rebuff to Russian aggression in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.
FAMILIAR ISLAND-CLASS BOATS
The Ukrainian military is already familiar with Island-class boats as two of them, Sloviansk and Starobilsk, have been performing combat missions in the Black Sea since 2019. These are American patrol ships developed in the 1980s, which had long been reliable assets of the U.S. Coast Guard. Since 2014, American forces have begun to shift to newer weapons systems, handing the fleet of their Island-class patrol boats to partners to strengthen their combat capabilities. At present, these types of vessels still remain partially at service in the United States, while some have been moved to Georgia, Pakistan, Costa Rica, and Ukraine.
The handover to another country involves re-equipment and training of crews at U.S. naval bases so that they can independently and safely operate the said boats.
"The course lasted six weeks," the commander of the Kubrak patrol boat, Senior Lieutenant Serhiy Tukmachev, said during the graduation ceremony in Baltimore. This involved both theory classes and practical exercises on board the boat, including on response to emergency situations - from fire and flooding to rescuing people overboard. The American instructors helped Ukrainians understand all peculiarities of operating the Island-class boats.
Also, throughout these almost one and a half months, repair and restoration works, as well as preparation for her transfer to the Ukrainian Navy, was completed. According to the commander, the Kubrak is fully ready for deployment and will soon be delivered to the Odesa port.
The graduation ceremony for Ukrainian sailors at the naval base in Baltimore was attended by the American and Ukrainian military, diplomats, and other guests. According to Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States, Oksana Markarova, the event only confirms readiness of Ukrainian forces to defend their country in the face of Russian aggression, including at sea.
"Of course, we know and see how capable our crews are, how patriotic, ready, and able they are to defend our sovereignty and our state in the Black Sea," the ambassador stressed.
MOSQUITO FLEET CONCEPT
Major General Borys Kremenetsky, Defense Attaché of Ukraine’s Embassy in the United States, told the agency that the three Island-type boats currently stationed in Baltimore will be equipped with modern weapons systems, including anti-ship arms. "Weapons will be installed in Ukraine – both missile systems and guns," he said.
According to the official report of the Ukrainian Navy, the Island-class boats will form a division based in the Pivdenny port just outside Odesa. The unit will not only be able to control the nearby sea area, but also deploy in the Mediterranean to support NATO ships.
In addition, the Ukrainian side expects to receive from American partners boats of another class, which will complement the practical concept of the so-called "mosquito fleet." The model was chosen to achieve the most realistic balance of power, in terms of efficiency-cost, in the Black Sea-Azov basin in the face of Russian aggression. The concept provides for the deployment of high-speed and maneuverable combat boats – torpedo carriers, patrol boats, those armed with missiles, as well as other types that can effectively deprive larger enemy ships of domination in coastal areas.
According to Borys Kremenetsky, the United States "pays a lot of attention to security issues in the Black Sea and Sea of Azov region," so assistance from American partners in this context will continue.
ANOTHER CLASS OF MODERN BOATS
The new American vessels of another class, on which Ukraine is waiting, are Mark VI, high-speed combat boats developed in 2015. By military standards, they are considered one of the most technologically advanced ones. The decision to start a lengthy procedure for their handover to Ukraine was approved by the U.S. State Department in June 2020. At that time, it was about offering Ukraine 16 patrol boats worth a total of about $600 million. To be precise, this number meant that the United States would transfer ten Mark VIs at its own expense, another four boats would be paid for through a foreign assistance program of the U.S. State Department, and two more could be purchased if required.
It was also planned that each boat would be equipped with modern weapons, including two MSI Seahawk A2 25mm automatic guns, "friend-or-foe" identification system, infrared video cameras, and an LRAD (long-range acoustic device), which can also be used as an "extremely loud" non-lethal weapon. These boats can sail at speeds of up to 45 knots, with a range of up to 750 nautical miles at a cruising speed of 25 knots. The maximum distance by sea from Georgia to Bulgaria is about 730 nautical miles, the minimum – from the southern coast of Crimea to Turkey – is 160 miles. That is, Mark VI boats are able to easily cover the region and significantly strengthen the Ukrainian Navy, which so far remains in an unfavorable position against the Russian fleet.
During a visit to Odesa region in July, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky confirmed that the Ukrainian and American sides are now cooperating on the issue of the Mark VI handover, which will practically launch in 2022. At the same time, according to the president, Ukraine is implementing large-scale joint projects not only with the United States, but also with the United Kingdom, Turkey, and many other friends and partners.
Thus, Ukraine continues to gradually increase its combat potential for the defense of maritime areas in the country’s south. This is an important deterrent, especially given the trend of the Russian aggressor to listen only when they are approached from a position of strength. So, if it is possible to face a real rebuff from the other side, the Russian fleet will no longer rattle sabers as they enjoy doing due to power advantage in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. This was clearly demonstrated when a British destroyer, the Defender, in August this year passed along an internationally recognized corridor off the coast of Crimea, the peninsula which the civilized world continues to see as the territory of Ukraine.
The United States, Great Britain, Turkey, and other partners are once again sending a clear signal to Russia that they are ready to support Ukraine, which they see as a country that protects the borders of Western democracy in Eastern Europe from Russian aggression.
Yaroslav Dovgopol, Baltimore
Photo by author
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