Even New Vessels May Not Offset Russian Naval Dominance
The US may provide Ukraine with Mk VI patrol boats under a $125 million (€111 million) aid package, according to a notification provided to the US Congress and reported by CNN on 6 March.
The package will also include counter-battery radars, although it is subject to congressional approval. The US has already provided two ISLAND-class boats, which were designed and built in the 1980s to support Ukraine’s Navy: talks were under way last year to provide an additional three craft of the same class.
The reference to Mk VI patrol boats, the first of which was only delivered to the US Navy in 2014, is the first indication of the intention to transfer modern craft to Ukraine. The Mk VI can reach a top speed of 35 kts, carries an advanced C4I suite and can be armed with a variety of weapons, including 25mm Mk 38 cannons.
The Mk VI, combined with the ISLAND-class vessels, could be vital in enabling Ukraine to regain a measure of sovereignty over its coastline. The Ukrainian Navy essentially lost any authority over its coast following the 2018 Kerch Strait incident, which demonstrated that Russia could exert control over any sea-going traffic in the vicinity of the Crimean peninsula.
Ukraine lost two of its patrol craft during that incident, which were only returned by Russia in 2019, and were reportedly stripped of some important systems – including toilets! Despite the provision of US aid – even in the form of Mk VI craft – it remains unclear how Ukraine will adequately answer the threat posed by Russian naval forces in the region. Russia arguably maintains air superiority and has the ability to assert dominance over the Ukrainian Navy at moments of its choosing: faster and better-armed vessels will not necessarily prevent this from occurring.
Miles Quartermain in London for MON