One of the Most Dangerous Jobs in the Russian Navy

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Russia’s Black Sea Fleet started a wider war with Ukraine in late February with a possible 11 landing craft. One 84-foot sernaThe ships of the class are lying on the seabed, having caught a missile fired by the Ukrainian navy’s TB-2 drone while transporting an air defense vehicle to strategic Snake Island, 80 miles south of Odesa.

Now the remaining landing craft—including two or more sernas as well as at least one 148-foot Dyugon and several 54-foot-tall BK-16 assault ships—running the 250-mile challenge between the Russian-occupied Crimean Peninsula and Snake Island, which Russian forces captured on the first day of fighting on February 24.

And they do it without much protection. Ukrainian Navy hides cruiser Black Sea Fleet Moscow with a pair of Neptune anti-ship missiles on April 14, eventually sinking it and depriving the fleet of the only ships with long-range air defenses. After Moscow sinking along with a possible number of crew members, the fleet commanders pulled their two frigates further from the Ukrainian coast.

Satellite-controlled TB-2s firing MAM laser guided missiles a 10-mile range also struck four of the fleet’s eight. Raptorclass patrol boat, whose main role these days is herding landing craft to Snake Island, which lies on the sea route to Odesa, Ukraine’s largest port. There weren’t many ships left that could, or would, escort the landing craft.

A Russian air force fighter jet, possibly a Su-30 flying from Crimea, takes on some of the drawbacks. “Russia is also flying a combat air patrol near Snake Island,” an unnamed US Department of Defense official told reporters Tuesday. “That, I think, we think, is the result of the attacks that Ukraine has carried out there in the last few days.”

Ukraine has managed to slip the TB-2 past the fighters. Overhead image from American satellite company Maxar depicts what appears to be a TB-2 chase wild maneuver serna not far from Snake Island on Thursday, fired missiles at the hapless ship and its five crew.

It is not clear whether serna and his crew survived their close encounter with the scariest drone in Ukraine. Otherwise, the Black Sea Fleet might only have one sernathat Dyugon and the remaining seven BK-16s. And five fewer sailors to man them.

The rest of the Russian fleet could not simply fly their own ships into the Black Sea Fleet to make up for the Black Sea Fleet’s losses. Turkey controlled the only waterway to the Black Sea, and did not allow any warships to pass.

The dangers of Ukrainian drones and missiles, and the shortage of landing craft, have not stopped the Black Sea Fleet from at least try to reinforce Snake Island, which in recent weeks has been hit by the Ukrainian air force’s TB-2 and Su-27 fighters.

As recently as Wednesday, the landing craft may have delivered a new Tor air defense system to Snake Island, partially replacing the TB-2 defense that was destroyed the previous week.

But if every run to Snake Island puts one of the increasingly valuable Black Sea Fleet landing ships and their crews at risk, the time will soon come when the island—for all its strategic value—is not worth Russia.

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