scorecardRussia is highly likely using an amphibious plane from the 1960s to hunt for a new threat to its Black Sea Fleet, Western intel says
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Russia is highly likely using an amphibious plane from the 1960s to hunt for a new threat to its Black Sea Fleet, Western intel says

Jake Epstein   

Russia is highly likely using an amphibious plane from the 1960s to hunt for a new threat to its Black Sea Fleet, Western intel says
LifeInternational3 min read
  • Ukraine has battered Russia's Black Sea Fleet with cruise missile strikes and sea drone attacks.
  • To deal with the new sea drone threat, Russia is increasing its maritime air patrol operations.

Russia is highly likely relying on a decades-old amphibious plane to seek out a dangerous Ukrainian threat to its Black Sea Fleet, according to Western intelligence.

Kyiv doesn't have a proper navy, but over the past two months it has ramped up its assaults on the Black Sea Fleet and other high-value targets around the occupied Crimean peninsula as part of its ongoing counteroffensive. This includes cruise missile strikes on a key shipyard and the fleet's headquarters and attacks with uncrewed surface vessels (USVs) — or sea drones — on Russian ships.

Sea drones, which are inexpensive and can be packed with explosives, have become a headache for Russia, which can't figure out how to consistently stop the systems. Experts say the sea drones give Ukraine an "asymmetric advantage," prompting leadership in Kyiv to prioritize developing what it hails is "the formation of the world's first naval fleet of drones."

In early August, Ukraine employed sea drones in two major attacks: the first damaged the landing ship Olenegorsky Gornyak at the Russian port of Novorossiysk, and the other "disabled" the Russian merchant tanker Sig near the Kerch Strait. In September, Ukraine claimed its drones scored hits on Russian patrol ships and other vessels. Russia's defense ministry challenged these claims, saying its forces foiled these attacks, but the problem still has Moscow searching for solutions, according to Britain's defense ministry.

"In recent weeks, the Naval Aviation component of Russia's Black Sea Fleet has assumed a particularly important role in the Fleet's operations as it struggles to deal with concurrent threats on the southern flank of the Ukraine war," Britain's defense ministry wrote in a Monday intelligence update.

"Naval Aviation is emphasising maritime air patrol operations, highly likely with a primary mission of the early identification of uncrewed surface vessels," Britain's defense ministry said. "A key Russian asset in these operations is the Be-12 MAIL amphibious aircraft, designed in the 1950s, flying out of bases in occupied Crimea."

The Beriev Be-12 is a Soviet-era turboprop aircraft that was designed in the 1950s and first flown in 1960. Capable of flying from both land bases and water, the Be-12 was made to conduct short-range anti-submarine and maritime patrol duties — thanks to a radar, a magnetic anomaly detector, and sonobuoys — and can be armed with torpedoes and mines.

Typically flying with a crew of four — two pilots, a navigator, and a radio and sensor operator — the Be-12 can reach speeds of nearly 330 mph and fly at a maximum altitude of around 10,000 ft. Because the aircraft is so old, Russia has started replacing it with the jet-powered Be-200ES.

Russia has long kept operational Be-12s at Kacha Air Base in Crimea, where the planes were spotted patrolling last year.

It remains to be seen if the Be-12 makes a difference in curbing the threat of Ukraine's sea drones. In addition to increasing maritime air patrol operations, Russia has also been conducting maritime strike operations with its combat jets, according to Britain's defense ministry, which noted a likely relocation of Black Sea Fleet activity from Sevastopol to Novorossiysk, a process that was already underway to a certain extent following a sea drone attack last fall.

"With more Fleet activities likely relocating to Novorossiysk in the face of threats to Sevastopol, Russia is attempting to use naval air power to project force over the north-western Black Sea," Britain's defense ministry said on Monday.

Sevastopol, which is located on the southwestern edge of Crimea and is the home of the Black Sea Fleet, fell victim to two major cruise missile strikes last month, with one targeting a key shipyard and the other hitting the fleet's headquarters. Collectively, these attacks damaged several vessels, and killed and injured scores of Russian personnel. Novorossiysk, on the other hand, is a port located across the Black Sea on Russia's internationally recognized territory, although Ukraine has demonstrated that it can still reach Novorossiysk with its sea drones and inflict damage there.




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