Russia’s naval power crumbles: Ukraine’s drones and missiles sink fleet, leaving decades-long rebuild ahead

Over a dozen other Russian vessels have been damaged or destroyed in the conflict by kamikaze drones and long-range munitions like the UK-supplied Harpoon missiles.

Russia’s naval power has been severely degraded by the Ukrainian military’s innovative use of drones, missiles, and coastal defences over the past year of war. The losses have left the once-formidable Russian Navy a shadow of its former self and facing monumental challenges to rebuild its strength.

The flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, the Moskva missile cruiser, was perhaps the most stunning loss – struck and sunk by Ukrainian Neptune anti-ship missiles in April 2022. Over a dozen other Russian vessels have been damaged or destroyed in the conflict by kamikaze drones and long-range munitions like the UK-supplied Harpoon missiles.

Just as significantly, Russia’s sole aircraft carrier, the ageing Admiral Kuznetsov, has been undergoing repairs for years with no clear return-to-service timeline. This has effectively neutralized Russia’s ability to project maritime air power.

While Russia maintains a vast overall inventory of warships, submarines, and support vessels, many are outdated or lack the air defence capabilities proven vital in modern naval warfare. Rebuilding a true blue water navy with power projection capabilities could take decades and cost hundreds of billions of dollars that Russia can ill-afford.

Michael Kofman of the Wilson Center stated that Ukraine draining Russia’s military resources on land, and it’s doubtful the Kremlin can prioritize big-budget naval projects like new carriers or modernized surface ships.

Any realistic naval reboot is likely years, if not decades away as Russia remains bogged down in Ukraine. As a result, Western countries may not have to worry about a resurgent Russian naval threat shortly. However, the conflict has revealed the maritime vulnerabilities modern militaries must address.