Maritime drones are a hot topic in many navies, but Ukraine has become the first to form a specialist unit using explosive-armed ones. The recently revealed 385th Separate Brigade is unique in the world. And it is formed from wartime needs.

H I Sutton

31 Aug 2023

Naval News

On August 24, as part of the Independence Day celebrations, President Zelensky recognized a unique unit in the Ukrainian Navy. The 385th Separate Brigade uses a range of “Special-Purpose Naval Unmanned Systems”. These include the explosive laden maritime drones which are the scourge of the Russian Navy in the Black Sea.

It is one of the clearest signs of the changes we are witnessing in warfare; the Ukrainian Navy has a unit dedicated to a mode of warfare which essentially didn’t exist 1.5 years ago.

Each newly revealed model of drone has to be fitted into an invisible timeline of development. We only get to see the ones which Ukraine, or sometimes their targets, are willing to show. And the development of these drones is not a simple iterative process. Analysis of publicly released information suggests that there are several desperate programs. This article relies on open sources.

First Generation Maritime Drone

The fact that there are several ‘families’ of designs suggests that they originate from different manufacturers and organizations. Some may be coming directly from the Ukrainian Navy, while others may be developed by intelligence agencies such as the GUR (Defense Intelligence of Ukraine). And others may be private initiatives relying on commercial or crowd funding.

This apparent duplication of efforts will bring with it both pros and cons. Some might view it as inefficient. Yet it is also how innovation occurs in a wartime setting; it is a symptom of the circumstances.

The first generation of ‘maritime drones’, properly known as USVs (uncrewed surface vessels), were first reported in September 2022. On October 29, 2022 they performed a spectacular raid on Sevastopol, showing the first signs of their combat potential. They didn’t sink any ships, but they got close. It was a threat Russia had to take seriously.

These first USVs were a cross between a jet ski and a canoe. And several of the subsequent designs followed this thinking. In general they aim to be fast and low profile, much smaller than a crewed boat could be.

Magura and the Sea Baby

The more recent Magura family has been promoted by SpetsTechnoExport, a state-owned enterprise. Magura, which stands for Maritime Autonomous Guard Unmanned Robotic Apparatus, has been used in several attacks. It has an impressive 320 kg (705 lb) payload capability. It has a top speed of 42 knots and an advertised range of 450 nautical miles (833km).

Another family is the ‘Sea Baby‘. This appears larger than the Magura but still compact. It was revealed by the SBU (Security Service of Ukraine) and likely comes from a different manufacturer, possibly government. It can reportedly be equipped with an 860kg (1,900lb) warhead, much larger than the other models. This was put to use, seriously damaging the Kerch Bridge, on July 17, 2023.

More simple USVs, based on stripped down jet skis, have also been observed off Sevastopol. It is unclear whether these were armed, or used as decoys. They are likely to be cheaper and quicker to build than the USVs with custom hulls, but generally less capable.

Going Underwater

Uncrewed underwater vehicles (UUVs), essentially submarine drones, are inherently more stealthy than USVs. Naturally Ukrainian companies have been developing underwater vehicles.

In May 2023 the Toloka TK-150 UUV was revealed at the Brave 1 opening event. Brave 1 is a government tech cluster bringing together State, military, and private sector developers. The Toloka TK-150 is a very small drone just 2.5 meters (8 feet) long. The implication is that the device would operate using a sensor mast to navigate and identify its target. It is possible that it is designed to contain a warhead for attacks on ships.

More recently, another group, AMMO Ukraine, unveiled their own UUV. The ‘Marichka’ is much larger than the Toloka TK-150, being 6 meters (20 feet) long and 1 meter (3.2 feet) in diameter. AMMO Ukraine advertises that it can be used to target warships and bridges as well as perform intelligence gathering and transport roles. AMMO Ukraine is crowdsourcing funding to build a fleet of Marichka drones.

It is unclear which models of USV are operated by which units, although the 385th Separate Brigade no doubt plays an important role. The Ukrainian military is secretive about these capabilities, and only reveals what it chooses. It is entirely likely that there are other models of maritime drones which we have yet to learn about.


H I Sutton writes about the secretive and under-reported submarines, seeking out unusual and interesting vessels and technologies involved in fighting beneath the waves. Submarines, capabilities, naval special forces underwater vehicles and the changing world of underwater warfare and seabed warfare. To do this he combines the latest Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) with the traditional art and science of defense analysis. He occasionally writes non-fiction books on these topics and draws analysis-based illustrations to bring the subject to life. In addition, H I Sutton is a naval history buff and data geek. His personal website about these topics is Covert Shores (