The United Kingdom has taken another leading step to rebuild Ukraine’s naval power, which was nullified by Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
The U.K. has pledged to provide Ukraine with two Sandown-class minesweeping ships. It will also help Ukraine produce brand new patrol boats, restore old Ukrainian dockyards and build two new naval bases in the Black and Azov seas.
These agreements were contained in a memorandum signed by Ukrainian and British officials on June 21, aboard the Royal Navy’s destroyer HMS Defender, moored in Odesa.
According to Ukraine’s top navy commander, Rear Admiral Oleksiy Neizhpapa, the British minesweepers are expected to join the Ukrainian ranks “in the near term” following their “complete inspection, repairs, modernization, the installation of additional hardware, and appropriate training of Ukrainian personnel.”
Sandown-class ships are 52-meter-long, single-role minehunters with a water displacement of 450 tons. Fifteen vessels of the class were built between the late 1980s and early 2000s. The ships currently serve in the Royal Navy, as well as the Estonian and Saudi navies.
The vessels detect and destroy naval mines using remote-controlled Atlas Elektronik IMCMS probes. Alternatively, the ships can be used as offshore patrol vessels. The United Kingdom plans on retiring all of its Sandown-class ships throughout the 2020s, along with all other mine countermeasures vessels, which will be replaced with automated systems.
The ship transfer is part of the defense cooperation agreement between the U.K. and Ukraine, signed in October 2020 in the English city of Portsmouth. The deal also envisaged a 1.25 billion pound loan to build eight newly-designed missile boats for Ukraine’s navy.
According to Neizhpapa, the first production contract for these boats is expected to be signed in August.
“Their design has already been completed,” the Ukrainian commander said on June 21.
“The first two boats are to be built in Great Britain, and the others at Ukrainian enterprises chosen by the English side.”
“Britain is going to allocate funds, while our enterprises are going to ensure the boats’ complete operational maintenance in Ukraine.”
The missile boats’ technical features have yet to be revealed to the public, although they are expected to be nearly 50 meters long and displace nearly 400 tons.
“We now have a hope of getting good minesweeping vessels soon,” said Taras Chmut, an editor with the Ukrainian Military Portal news site.
“I really hope there will be a strict deal, with clear timescales, instead of just another memorandum. Two vessels is not that many of course; we’d like to get three or four 0f them. But for us, this could mean progress that’s unprecedented in all the years of our independence.”
Russia’s occupation of Crimea in 2014 effectively stripped Ukraine of nearly 80 percent of its naval power and most of its naval infrastructure, including the Black Sea Fleet’s main base in Sevastopol.
Ever since, Ukraine’s 16,000-strong naval force operates a handful of small and mid-sized obsolete vessels, with the frigate Hetman Sagaydachniy as its flagship. Ukraine’s own efforts to rebuild its navy were limited to acquiring a few Gurza-class gunboats, which are geared mainly for river and littoral navigation.
In response to Russia’s buildup in the Azov and Black seas since 2018, the United States also initiated a program to help Ukraine restore its naval power and coastal defense infrastructure.
The U.S. contributed to the modernization of Ukraine’s naval base of Ochakiv and provided Ukraine with two Island-class patrol boats. Three more vessels are being prepared for another transfer.
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