Leaked photos said to be a Russian submarine hit by Ukrainian missiles show severe damages that look beyond repair
- Ukraine's attack on the Sevastopol shipyard last week left a Russian submarine in rough shape.
- Britain's defense ministry said recently that the vessel "likely suffered catastrophic damage."
New photos of what is said to be a Russian submarine targeted in a Ukrainian missile attack show severe and widespread damage to its exterior, and possibly interior. A naval expert and former submariner says the damage may leave the vessel beyond repair.
Ukrainian forces last week carried out a series of cruise missile strikes on a shipyard in the Black Sea port city of Sevastopol, which is located on the southwestern edge of occupied Crimea and is the headquarters for Russia's Black Sea Fleet (BSF). The attack damaged two vessels, including the Kilo-class attack submarine Rostov-on-Don, and was the latest in a string of assaults on the peninsula, which Kyiv has vowed to liberate from Moscow.
Satellite imagery obtained by Insider in the aftermath of the attack showed clear damage to the shipyard and the two vessels, although the extent of the destruction was not immediately clear.
But new photographs said to be of the submarine, which circulated around social media on Monday, appear to show the attack sub in rough shape. The images, which Insider was unable to independently verify, were obtained by the Conflict Intelligence Team, an open-source intelligence operation, and shared by other OSINT platforms, like Oryx, which maintains a database of both Russian and Ukrainian equipment and weapons losses.
—Oryx (@oryxspioenkop) September 18, 2023
Bryan Clark, a former US Navy submarine officer and defense expert at the Hudson Institute, said the purported damage looks "bad enough to make the submarine a total loss." According to Oryx's website, which keeps a tally of Russian ships taken out by Ukraine, the Rostov-on-Don is recorded as Moscow's first submarine loss in the ongoing war.
"If the hole at the side on the waterline is accurately depicted, the flooding that would have resulted should have made saving the ship very difficult and likely damaged much of equipment inside," Clark told Insider in an email. "It also looks like the explosion pushed the hull out rather than in."
"This could be the result of a sympathetic explosion inside the ship," he added, "suggesting extensive damage inside the hull. There is also some less significant damage on the superstructure, which would be repairable if the ship could be saved."
Clark's analysis follows a similar assessment from Britain's defense ministry, which wrote in a Friday intelligence update that the submarine "likely suffered catastrophic damage" and that any effort to eventually return the vessel to service could take years and cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
"The loss of the Rostov removes one of the BSF's four cruise-missile capable submarines which have played a major role in striking Ukraine and projecting Russian power across the Black Sea and Eastern Mediterranean," Britain's defense ministry said. It also published satellite imagery showing the damaged Sevastopol shipyard, with a zoomed-in view of the submarine.
Ukraine's air force fired 10 cruise missiles — which observers speculated were Western-made Storm Shadow/ SCALP-EG long-range cruise missiles — in the pre-dawn attack on the Sevastopol shipyard on Wednesday, and although the Russian defense ministry said its air-defense systems managed to shoot down seven of the missiles, the ones that made it through managed to cause extensive damage to the facility.
In addition to the Rostov-on-Don, which was undergoing repairs at the time of the attack, the landing ship Minsk was also damaged. Britain's defense ministry cited open-source evidence in suggesting that the Minsk had "almost certainly been functionally destroyed." There have been a limited number of close-up images and videos showing the damage circulating around social media.
The attack followed several other high-profile Ukrainian operations against strategic Russian targets in and around Crimea in recent weeks, including the destruction of prized air-defense systems, sea drone attacks on a key bridge, a daring and symbolic amphibious raid, and the capture of oil drilling platforms seized by Russia years ago and used for "military purposes," according to Kyiv.
A retired US Army general told Insider that all these operations are part of Ukraine's lengthy pressure campaign to make Crimea indefensible and ultimately untenable for the occupying Russian forces, which is just one aspect of Kyiv's multi-domain counteroffensive. Experts say the strikes also reflect Kyiv's efforts to pry the strategic naval base and shipyard at Sevastopol from Russia's grip by dealing a heavy blow to key facilities for Moscow's Black Sea Fleet and its maritime operations and logistics.
Western intelligence seemed to agree that the damage to Russian capabilities could have a lasting effect.
"There is a realistic possibility that the complex task of removing the wreckage from the dry docks will place them out of use for many months," Britain's defense ministry said. "This would present the BSF with a significant challenge in sustaining fleet maintenance."
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