Ukraine rebuilds navy with combat boats from U.S. aid package

A Russian flag and a Ukrainian flag fly in the Crimean port city of Sevastopol in 2014.
A Russian flag and a Ukrainian flag fly in the Crimean port city of Sevastopol in 2014. (Filipo Monteforte/AFP via Getty Images) (FILIPPO MONTEFORTE via Getty Images)

TBILISI, Georgia — Up against one of the world’s largest fleets, Ukraine’s navy struggled in the early months of Russia’s invasion. Since Feb. 24, Russia has been dominating the waterways that surround Ukraine’s eastern and southern coast. In eight months, the Russian military has secured strategic ports of Mariupol and Berdyansk, which both encircle the Sea of Azov.

But it appears that Ukraine has been rebuilding its navy with the help of the U.S. In June, the Department of Defense announced that it would send 18 “coastal and riverine patrol boats” in the $450 million military assistance package. It included two 35-foot small-unit river craft; six 40-foot maritime combat craft; and 10 Dauntless Sea Ark 34-foot patrol boats.

A Ukrainian border guard is seen looking out the back of a boat patrolling the Sea of Azov.
Ukrainian border guards patrol the Sea of Azov off the city of Mariupol on April 30, 2021. (Aleksey Filippov/AFP via Getty Images) (ALEKSEY FILIPPOV via Getty Images)

“This will be helpful in enabling the Ukrainians to defend ... Odesa and other positions along the Black Sea coast,” a senior defense official said in a briefing at the Pentagon.

The vessels are small and are not meant to compete directly on the open seas with warships like the Moskva, the Russian Black Sea flagship that Ukrainian forces destroyed with a missile strike early in the war. But the combat boats can execute coastal and river operations.

Russian navy officers can be seen lined up on the deck of the guided missile cruiser Moskva.
Russian navy officers line up on the deck as the guided missile cruiser Moskva sails back into a harbor after tracking NATO warships in the Black Sea, in the Crimean port city of Sevastopol in 2021. (Alexey Pavlishak/Reuters) (Alexey Pavlishak / reuters)

A retired Ukrainian navy captain, Andrii Ryzhenko, told Yahoo News that every boat can be fitted with machine guns and grenade launchers. “It means they can be used primarily to fight with a similar size boat but not with big combat ships,” said Ryzhenko, speaking from Ukraine.

According to reports, a number of the combat boats are already patrolling the Black Sea. Pictures posted to a Ukrainian defense news site appear to show 40-foot U.S. Defiant boats.

Ukrainian marines look at a Russian ship in Sevastopol Bay.
Ukrainian marines look at a Russian ship in Sevastopol Bay on March 4, 2014. (Viktor Drachev/AFP via Getty Images) (VIKTOR DRACHEV via Getty Images)

Designed by the Louisiana-based company Metal Shark, the “40 Defiant” has been created to “address the vulnerabilities of traditional patrol boats” while delivering “substantial increases in capabilities and firepower.”

The latest additions to the navy will be a boost for Ukraine’s ability to defend its ports and waterways. When Russia invaded and annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014, it had taken over one of Ukraine’s major ports. At least 75% of Ukraine’s fleet was taken by Russia, according to Defense News. Ukraine was forced to begin rebuilding its navy.

In the coming months, Kyiv is expected to get another 22 boats — totaling 40 boats, Ryzhenko said.