The United Kingdom has committed to further expand the ‘Mosquito Fleet’ of Ukraine in an effort to both bring Ukraine closer in line with NATO, and "deter Russia". New details have emerged on the specifications of these ships.
Further details on Ukraine’s future naval strategy emerge from an interview given by the British military attaché in Ukraine, Tim Woods, to the Ukrainian newspaper Den’ (Day). Woods deplored the downsizing of British training missions, Operation Orbital, in Ukraine during the COVID crisis. He affirmedd, however, that Britain is committed to restore and modernise Ukrainian naval facilities in both Berdyans’k on the shores of the Sea of Azov as well as at Ochakiv (Ochakov) at the mouth of the Dnepr.
The Ochakiv Naval base had been largely constructed by US naval construction units since the summer of 2017. In 2019, it became Ukraine’s fourth naval base, along with Odesa, Mykolaiv, and the aforementioned Berdyans’k. However, with these statements it seems that work is still to be done: “You need to ensure that fuel depots, ammunition, repair facilities are in the proper place, and the piers have the appropriate voltage.”
Woods also spoke about the plans for the future of the Ukrainian fleet: “Ukraine has a fairly clear strategy for the Navy until 2035, which, incidentally, was developed jointly with the United States and the United Kingdom. And the first part of it is the mosquito fleet.” The advantage of this ‘Mosquito fleet’ is to prohibit access at sea, thus deterring the Russian Black Sea Fleet, which is seen as violating the national integrity of Ukraine, the newspaper reports.
“These will be small high-speed ships, armed with guns and missiles that can operate in the shallow waters of the Sea of Azov, as well as in the Black Sea.”. They are “are fast, manoeuvrable, difficult to hit and detect.” As for the armament, the ships are to be “equipped with very effective missile properties and artillery systems - guns.”
Adding to the native Ukrainian ‘Gyurza’, as well as the US supplied ‘Island’ and ‘Mark IV’ patrol boats, Woods mentions two large British companies that are currently conducting studies on how best to tailor the missile boats for Ukrainian use. He estimates them to be “have a length of approximately 50 to 65 meters” and “provide a speed of 40 knots.” These boats are to be armed short- or long-range missiles.” What is clear, is that “these will be new class missiles designed specifically for Ukraine by the British industry.”
It is planned that the first four boats will be built in the United Kingdom, allowing Ukrainian shipbuilders to observe, learn and train. Another four are then to be built in Ukraine itself. “Our idea is to transfer and share technology and skills, which is critical for the modernisation of Ukrainian shipbuilding.” Another option, albeit one that is not formalised “is the joint design of warships of British industry with the Ukrainian design bureau in Mykolayiv (Nikolayev).”
As for the timeline: “Our initial vision is that all eight rocket boats will be under construction or completed by 2024.” Depending on further delays “We will see these ships in the Black Sea in 2025 with Ukrainian sailors on board.”
The next phase of Ukraine’s maritime strategy is also underway: The transition to larger class ships, specifically corvettes. To this end, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence concluded a deal with Turkish companies to build at least three (but possibly up to five) Ada-Class corvettes last year. The construction of these had begun in February this year at Ukraine’s Okean Shipyard in Mykolaiv.
Ukraine’s defence procurements have not been without issue, however. Woods reported that “earlier purchases through Ukroboronprom increased the cost for the Ministry of Defence by 40%.”
However: “If you look at the situation with defence procurement in Ukraine two years ago and now, there is great progress in reforms. The new law on defence procurement was far-reaching and modern. Its implementation will take a long time. There have been huge changes in the purchase of military weapons for the Armed Forces. And it can't happen overnight.” Even Ukroboronprom “is now on an interesting path of reform, and Gusev's recent appointment as head of the company shows that the president is taking action and wants concrete results.”
Woods was also positive about further cooperation between Ukraine and NATO: “I see that the armed forces intend to be compatible with NATO armies. And General Khomchak is a real supporter of the Ukrainian army's compatibility with NATO. Last year's Joint Endeavor exercises were based on NATO principles.” On further exercises between the countries: “Sea Breeze naval exercises will take place in July this year. After that - Joint Endeavor-2021 in November. And there will be a solid participation of the British military in these exercises, as it was last year.” He also suggested Ukraine to also deploy its navy outside of the Black Sea, to take part in NATO’s Mediterranean Sea Guardian exercise: “If in the future Ukraine has corvettes and even larger vessels, why not take part in the escort of aircraft carriers in the 2030s? In fact, it would be great to have Ukrainian ships accompanied by aircraft carriers.”