Ukrainian Bombers Just Blew Up Another Russian Warship. ‘Russia’s Fleet Is Getting Smaller

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Late Christmas Day or early Tuesday, Ukrainian air force bombers struck, and apparently destroyed, the Russian Black Sea Fleet landing ship Novocherkassk in the port of Feodosia in southeastern Crimea.

It’s the seventh large warship the Ukrainians have sunk since Russia widened its war on Ukraine in February 2022.

In 22 months of hard fighting with an enemy that has no major warships, the Black Sea Fleet has lost at least one cruiser, four amphibious ships, a submarine, a supply ship and several patrol boats and landing craft.

Early on Tuesday morning, Lt. Gen. Mykola Oleshchuk, commander of Ukraine’s air force, shared on social media footage of a nighttime explosion in Feodosia. “Russia’s fleet is getting smaller and smaller!” Oleshchuk wrote.

The cruiser Moskva, which a Ukrainian navy missile battery sank in April 2022, “is followed by the large landing craft Novocherkassk,” Oleshchuk added. “I thank the pilots of the air force and everyone involved for their filigree work!”

It’s apparent what happened, as the Ukrainian air force has just one major anti-ship platform: the cruise-missile-armed Sukhoi Su-24 bomber. Launching from western Ukraine and angling southeast, supersonic Sukhois launched either British-made Storm Shadow cruise missiles or French-made SCALP-EGs.

Zooming at low altitude over a distance of up to 155 miles, the roughly 3,000-pound missiles navigated via GPS through Russia’s fraying air-defense network in Crimea and homed in on Novocherkassk’s infrared signature.

Both missiles have tandem warheads: one small charge to punch a hole in a target, and a second to blow it up from the inside. The enormous secondary explosion in the video Oleshchuk shared strongly implies the missile or missiles that struck Novocherkassk triggered ammunition stored aboard the 369-foot landing ship.

“Storm Shadow constitutes an incredibly effective weapon against hardened targets, if it can be brought to its target,” explained Fabian Hoffmann, a University of Oslo proliferation researcher. The same is true of the SCALP.

The Ukrainian air force last struck the shrinking Black Sea Fleet on Nov. 4, sinking the missile corvette Askold while she was pierside in Kerch in eastern Crimea. “How was your weekend?” the Ukrainian air force quipped in a social-media post that included a photo of a SCALP.

Three weeks before that, on Sept. 13, Ukrainian Su-24s firing Storm Shadows or SCALPs blew up a submarine and a landing ship in their drydock in Sevastopol, in western Crimea.

In all, the Black Sea Fleet has lost perhaps a fifth of its front-line strength to Ukrainian bombers, ground-launched anti-ship missiles and rockets and explosives-laden drone boats. The Russian navy can’t make good these losses until Russia’s wider war on Ukraine ends and Turkey reopens the Bosphorus Strait connecting the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea.

All that is to say, the Black Sea Fleet is getting smaller by the month. Its surviving vessels—including a dozen or so frigates, corvettes and anti-submarine patrol boats—aren’t safe in the western Black Sea, where Ukrainian missiles and drones rule the waves.

But they’re not safe in their anchorages, either. As long as the United Kingdom and France continue supplying cruise missiles, and as long as the Ukrainian air force has a handful of Su-24s to launch the missiles, Kyiv can keep chipping away at Moscow’s fleet … until it dwindles to nothing.

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