The Moskva, Russia’s flag command warship in the Black Sea, has sunk. The explanations associated with the events varied quite widely. Russian news reported that a fire broke out in the ship’s magazine and the ammunition stored there exploded. Russian news also reported that the majority of the Russian crew was safely evacuated but the ship was lost in stormy seas while being towed to port. Ukrainian news reported that anti-ship missiles had struck the Moskva, penetrated the hull and magazine, and caused a massive explosion. The latest news is that most of the Russian crew of 510 was killed in the blast. There are a number of things of interest in this major maritime event:
First, how did the Russian warship survive even for a short time? During WW-2, the German battleship, Bismark, instantaneously destroyed the British heavy cruise, Hood, when one of its shells hit the magazine. Admittedly, there are more modern magazine designs to blunt a Hood type disaster, but still, a shell igniting a ship’s magazine is an explosive disaster. ( It is hard to imagine that the Moskva was able to be towed at all before it sank.)
Second, and of greater personal interest, the Ukrainians reportedly used drones to distract and confuse the Moskva sensor suite. Surface skimming anti-ship missiles were fired under the cover of the drone providing sensory overload. The missiles penetrated through the ship’s defensive perimeter. (It is possible they weren’t even detected prior to impact.)
During the 1980s, I worked on various weapons and autonomous systems. Even in those early years, it became obvious that drones would eventually play a major offensive attack role in war. DARPA’s drone based Shark Pack, Hawk Pack, Wolf Pack and Mantis were designed to surveil large areas of a battlefield and destroy enemy targets, These drone Packs were either fully autonomous with a predefined task or semi-autonomous where secure communications could be used to direct battlefield actions.
During Superbowl LI, Lady Gaga uses some 300 airborne drones. Called “Shooting Stars”, these drones flashed, moved and grouped in unison based on a particular computer program. It was at that point I realized drones had arrived and that the Terminator’s Skynet could certainly be real.
One final note: Fleet Command warships are major symbols of a nation’s military might. The sinking of the Moskva is not just the loss of a military asset but a major embarrassment to Russia in general. It is incidents like this that change the nature of a war not just a battle.