Russian Navy Deploys Su-30SM Fighters to Neutralise Ukrainian Drone Boats

Footage released on November 26 showed Russian Navy Su-30SM fighters deployed to neutralise Ukrainian Navy unmanned boats, which have been utilised in growing numbers for attacks on Russian targets in the Black Sea including key infrastructure and military bases. The ships were reportedly destroyed using both guns and bombs. Su-30SMs were joined by older Su-24M strike fighters for the operation, with both aircraft deployed in the Russian Navy where Su-30s have gradually phased Su-24s out of service. The Su-30SM is also widely used in the Russian Air Force, and is a ‘4+ generation’ fighter developed based on the Su-30MKI fighter design customised for the requirements of the Indian Air Force. While inheriting the Su-30MKI’s very high endurance and extreme manoeuvrability, a major improvement seen on the Su-30SM design is the integration of the N011M Bars phased array radar with a maximum detection range 400 km. The radar is one of the largest ever integrated onto a fighter, and provides a very high degree of situational awareness against air, ground and naval targets facilitating effective targeting by beyond visual range weaponry. Unlike the Su-35 and Su-34 which are specialised air superiority and strike fighters respectively, the Su-30SM is a multirole aircraft well balanced between all mission types.  

Ukraine has received considerable support from a number of NATO member states to modernise its drone warfare capabilities, which has included the supply of hundreds of drone boats alongside thousands of unmanned aircraft. Unmanned ships began to be used widely combat from October 2022, including for strikes on the Russian Navy intelligence ship Ivan Khurs in the Black Sea. One of the latest developments in such operations was the capture of the Ukrainian Maritime Autonomous Guard Unmanned Robotic Apparatus (MAGURA) V5 drone boat by Russian forces in the penultimate week of November, fuelling expectations that the warship class would be studied to develop suitable countermeasures. The ship class carries a 320kg payload and has a range of close to 850km. With Ukraine having negligible manned naval capabilities, it is expected that similar classes of unmanned attack ships will continue to be relied on heavily alongside mobile land based missile systems to asymmetrically threaten Russian naval and coastal targets.