One of the features of Russia’s war against Ukraine has been the emergence of drones as a ubiquitous means of surveillance, target acquisition and as attack weapons. Outgunned on the sea, Ukraine is now finding unconventional solutions to combat the Russian Black Sea fleet (BSF). The latest new weapon being the Toloka (meaning community spirit) – TLK 150 – a cross between a missile and a torpedo.

Russia is proud of its navy and, considering the limited naval assets available to Ukraine, expected that this was one area of the war in which they could operate without fear. But, as in so much of its ill-fated full-scale invasion, they underestimated Ukraine’s determination, innovation and plain derring-do.

On April 13, 2022, the Moskva guided-missile cruiser, flagship of the BSF was sunk after being struck by two Ukrainian designed and produced Neptune anti-ship missiles. This forced the Russian navy to begin to operate farther from shore.

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Then, on April 24 of this year, Ukrainian remote-controlled unmanned surface vehicles (RUSV) – so-called “kamikaze drones” – attacked Russian warships anchored in Sevastopol, which has reportedly forced some of the BSF to retreat to Novorossiysk, 300 kilometers away on mainland Russia.

Then, on May 24, videos emerged of attacks by up to three Ukrainian RUSVs on the Russian reconnaissance ship Ivan Khurs, which, in spite of video released by Russia showing one of the drones being destroyed before reaching the ship, is now considered to have been struck and damaged by at least one of the three.

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Ukraine has now unveiled a new unmanned vehicle, the Toloka TLK-150, which travels under the surface of the water with only the top of a narrow periscope-like communications mast visible above the surface, making it harder to spot and intercept.

The weapon has been developed by BRAVE1, the defense technology coordination platform created by the Ukrainian government. While still in the prototype stage, the Toloka underwater unmanned vehicle (UUV) is expected to go into production in the next few weeks.

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The components of the Toloka TLK-150.Diagram: Steve Brown

 Full details of the weapon are still unclear, but it is known to be 2.5 meters long with a probable maximum range of around 100 kilometers and a 20-50 kilogram warhead; a threat to all but the largest naval vessels.

It is understood that BRAVE1 is working on a family of Toloka underwater drones of varying sizes. Information released to date identifies three main versions:

·      TLK-150: Hull length of 2.5 meters, operational range of 100 km, electric motor, warhead/payload capacity 20 to 50 kg.

·      TLK-400: Hull length 4 to 6 meters, operational range of 1,200 km, warhead/payload capacity 500 kg.

·      TLK-1000: Hull length 4 to 12 meters, operational range of 2,000 km, electric motor, warhead/payload capacity (up to) 5,000 kg.

The Toloka family of underwater drones.Photo: Brave1

 While the actual capabilities of its new weapon are yet to be tested, naval analysts feel that it represents a major technological upgrade in Ukraine’s ability to take on the BSF, further confirming its desire to control the sea.

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