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SBU unveils new details of marine drone attack on Crimean Bridge

Ukraine’s marine drone attack on the Crimean Bridge on 17 July 2023 was a display of remote operational excellence, with drones being piloted from Kyiv through a specially designed communication system, which did not depend on Starlink.
Sea Baby marine drone. Credit: SBU
SBU unveils new details of marine drone attack on Crimean Bridge

Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) has revealed previously unknown details about the dramatic July attack on the strategic Crimean Bridge in a 1+1 TV channel documentary titled “Crimean Bridge Encore. SBU” from the series “SBU. Special Operations of Victory.”

SBU Chief Vasyl Maliuk said that the operation was commanded from Kyiv, employing five Sea Baby drones, with two leading as scouts. The drones were to approach the bridge at 2 a.m., a strategic time given the brief night hours in July.

Credit: Screenshot from the documentary

However, the operation’s control center detected a Russian Su-27 aircraft, prompting a change in the drones’ course to avoid detection. An unexpected encounter with the Russian Admiral Essen missile ship posed a dilemma, as the vessel was deemed a high-priority target due to its capability to strike Ukrainian cities. Maliuk admitted the temptation to attack Admiral Essen, saying, “It was a very high-priority target for us.”

When the leading two drones reached the Yalta region, they detached from the others, which were then tasked with seeking the Admiral Essen frigate. According to SBU General with a callsign “Hunter,” the remaining drones did not pursue the frigate as it retreated to Novorossiysk, leading to their self-destruction near Yalta’s coast.

The remaining pair of drones successfully reached the bridge right before 3 a.m. local time on 17 July, with one failing to hit railway support due to a communication delay and instead attacking an automotive part of the bridge successfully. The second drone aimed at railway support beneath a passing train but was redirected after realizing the train carried no flammable cargo.

SBU agents obtained inspection acts of the bridge supports, which revealed that 6 out of 8 load-bearing supports were left fully destroyed in the attack, affecting the bridge’s functionality and limiting vehicle weight and train carriage number. As a result, Russian military reinforcements from Crimea to the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia oblast have reportedly ceased.

“The bridge currently does not fully function. …Railway now only allows small commuter trains limited to five cars, while road traffic crawls in one direction with a five-ton vehicle weight limit,” Maliuk said.

The SBU operation also relied on open-source intelligence, including a video by a Russian tourist showing the bridge’s internal structures, which guided the attack strategy. Highlighting the creative approach of the SBU and volunteer contributions, Maliuk emphasized the indigenous development of the Sea Baby drones and the specialized communication system used, which did not depend on Starlink.

Footage from the video of a Russian tourist. Credit: Screenshot from the documentary

Maliuk’s statement indicates that Western partners are keen to learn from Ukraine’s experience with these technologies, noting that the operation was a testament to the creative approach and collective effort of the SBU and Naval Forces of Ukraine.

The first strike on the Crimean Bridge on the morning of 8 October 2022, just a day following Vladimir Putin’s 70th birthday celebration, featured a truck laden with explosives, expertly wrapped in plastic film, SBU disclosed earlier.

SBU Chief stated that the agency is preparing “numerous surprises for the enemy.” The objective of the SBU is not only to destroy the Crimean Bridge but also to collaborate with the Defense Forces to liberate all Ukrainian territories from occupation.

“There will be many surprises to come, and not just concerning the Crimean Bridge. The bridge is doomed,” Maliuk declared.

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