A Secret Fleet of Seaborne Suicide Drones

Jason Simpkins

Posted January 2, 2024

On August 4, 2023, an explosion rocked Russia’s Novorossiysk naval base on the Black Sea.

In the wake of the attack, a Russian ship, the Olenegorsky Gornyak, could be seen listing in the harbor, its port side slinking into the water.

listing russian ship

The culprit was a Ukrainian drone. 

But it didn’t fly out of the sky; it was seaborne.


Ukrainian forces even disseminated a video to prove it. Shot from the bow of a tiny vessel, the video showed the drone speeding into the side of the massive ship just as the camera feed cut out.

black sea drone bow footage

It wasn’t the first time these drones had been deployed to such great effect, either. 

In July, one crashed into a support structure of the Kerch Bridge — a vital 12-mile-long artery that connects Crimea to Russia — causing a partial collapse.

Kerch Bridge Collapse

And in fact, these attacks have been commonplace for almost a year now, going back to last October, when 16 drones descended on Russia’s Black Sea fleet in a massive swarm.

That attack damaged the fleet’s flagship, the Admiral Makarov, and blew up at least one auxiliary vessel in the process.

So while aerial drone attacks on Moscow high-rises and Russian troop positions have been getting most of the attention, Ukraine’s seaborne drone program has been just as effective — maybe even more so.

And better still, they’re cheap and easy to make.

You could build one in a garage for $250,000. 

Nevertheless, they can carry 600 lbs of explosives, have a range of roughly 500 miles, and travel as fast as 50 mph, making them faster than any other craft in the Black Sea. 

Ukraine USV drone

That means they’re small, fast, and nimble enough to avoid detection and interception. And they pack enough of a punch to disable billion-dollar destroyers and Europe’s longest bridge.

Given that, it’s no wonder they’re taking off — not just in Ukraine but around the world.

In fact, the United States has an entire unit dedicated to the development of seaborne drones like these.

It’s called…

Task Force 59

Launched in 2021, Task Force 59 is an incubator for ocean-based drones, robotics, and artificial intelligence.

It’s housed within the Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which patrols the Middle East region, with an office based in Bahrain. 

You see, the U.S. naval presence in that area has atrophied over the past decade as wars in Iraq and Afghanistan came to an end and the Pentagon pivoted to the Pacific.

So TF59 was conceived of as a force multiplier. 

For the most part, that means developing drones for surveillance, harbor protection, mapping undersea mines, and looking out for enemy subs.

For example, TF59’s AI can highlight suspicious vessels in the area, flagging ships that don’t match their identification signals. 

It can also analyze the data collected with pattern-matching AI to distinguish between standard oil tankers and smugglers.

Manned vessels can then respond, even if that just means taking a closer look at the offender through the drone’s camera feed.

In addition to scanning the ocean’s surface with cameras, the unmanned vessels can use hydrophones to detect noise emanating from beneath the waves. 

Another autonomous vessel, the Seagull, is a speedboat that hunts for mines and submarines by dragging a sonar array in its wake.

And still another, the Triton, can submerge itself when it senses danger. It can stay submerged for up to five days and then resurface when the coast is clear.

However, up to this point, exploding boats haven’t really been a priority for TF59 given America’s peacetime posture. But the vehicles the unit has developed could easily be modified into Ukrainian-style suicide boats with a few tweaks.

They can also be equipped with remotely operated machine guns or torpedoes that launch from the deck.

These modifications are relatively easy because — like the Ukrainians who have developed their ocean drones completely in-house — TF59 pieces its systems together with off-the-shelf technology from private contractors.

Of course, even without them, TF59 has been a brilliant success, as the group aims to have more than 100 unmanned vessels in regional waters by the end of the year.

In fact, TF59 has been so successful that the Navy initially intended to clone a new unit — Task Force 49 — into its Fourth Fleet, which covers Latin America.

US Fleet Map

However, instead it simply created a new directorate (N9) to determine what unmanned systems are most applicable to the Fourth Fleet and acquire them if needed.

In any case, it’s clear that maritime drones have a significant and growing role in modern warfare and national security.

And while the TF59, in particular, has done a tremendous job of developing and testing new unmanned surface vessel (USV) concepts, companies like the one I just recommended to readers of my premium Secret Stock Files service will likely be called upon to scale them out and mass-produce them. 

From there, they’ll likely also be absorbed into the private sector. 

That could mean lending a hand on offshore oil rigs, inspecting or laying underwater pipelines and cables, aiding in search and rescue efforts, conducting marine biology experiments, or simply exploring the unknown depths.

Fight on,

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Jason Simpkins

Simpkins is the founder and editor of Secret Stock Files, an investment service that focuses on companies with assets — tangible resources and products that can hold and appreciate in value. He covers mining companies, energy companies, defense contractors, dividend payers, commodities, staples, legacies and more…

In 2023 he joined The Wealth Advisory team as a defense market analyst where he reviews and recommends new military and government opportunities that come across his radar, especially those that spin-off healthy, growing income streams. For more on Jason, check out his editor’s page.

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