Innovative Submarine Drone Is Ukraine’s New Weapon Against Russian Navy.
Click to Enlarge. The new weapon, the Toloka TLK-150, is much smaller than previous Ukrainian maritime drones. It likely has a much shorter range and slower speed, but should make up for that by being more stealthy and more survivable.
By H.I. Sutton
Ukraine is becoming known for using unconventional naval vessels against the Russian Navy. Its ‘maritime drones’, which are robot boats loaded with explosives, have helped shape the war in the Black Sea. Now a new maritime drone has been revealed, one which operates like a small submarine.
Ukraine is quickly gaining a reputation for innovation and ingenuity. Faced with the Russian invasion, many inventors and small businesses are answering the call of national defence. New designs are surfacing all the time.
The Ukrainian government is doing its best to both harness this creativity and bring it together in an efficient and coordinated way. A new group, Brave1, has recently been established to manage this.
One of the new weapons on show, when Brave1 was officially launched, is of particular interest from a Navy perspective. It is a small robotic submarine, the Toloka TLK-150 maritime drone.
Taking The Fight To The Russian Navy
Ukraine has already enjoyed significant strategic success pushing the Russian Navy, which initially dominated the northern Black Sea, into a defensive posture. The threat of anti-ship missiles, like the ones which sunk the cruiser Moskva, has pushed the Russian Navy back over the horizon. And innovative weaponized uncrewed surface vessels (USVs) have helped keep them penned up in their ports.
But the resulting void in the northern Black Sea is far from being a Ukrainian lake. The Russians can still operate there to launch missiles, or to support ground operations if the need arrives. And Ukrainian vessels, even the small USVs, can be picked off by Russian aircraft. So it is perhaps natural that Ukraine is developing robotic submarines, known formally as an uncrewed underwater vehicle (UUV).
The TLK-150 is the first indigenous UUV revealed. The design is unconventional, showing its homegrown nature. It has larger stabilizers than other UUVs and much wider space propulsors (propellers). This may not be a bad thing, and it shows that it is not a mere copy of anything going on before. This small weapon complements the now famous uncrewed surface vessels (USVs) which already threaten the Russian Navy in its main base at Sevastopol.
Design Of The New Maritime Drone
Ukraine has recently acquired some UUVs from Western governments. These are principally to support mine-clearing efforts and include 6 supplied via the United Kingdom. Some of this know-how may have transferred to the new type, although the design and technology will be completely separate.
The TLK-150 is quite a small drone, being only 2.5 meters (8 feet) long. Unusually it has twin thrusters mounted on small wing-like stabilizers and a large keel. Combined with a separate rudder and forward-mounted dive planes this should provide excellent agility.
There is a very tall mast with cameras and communications devices. The keel may be to balance this mast. It is possible that this can be used as a periscope for intelligence-gathering missions close to the enemy shore. It might also allow ‘human in the loop’ navigation and aiming to carry out attacks.
Designs for two larger UUVs were also revealed by Brave1. The TLK-400 is over twice as long at 4-6 meters (13-20 feet). It also has a much larger diameter body inferring greater range and payload. The TLK-1000 would be much larger again, up to 12 meters (40 feet) in length and with four thrusters. It is unclear whether these larger designs have been built.