Putin’s Black Sea Fleet is using a Soviet-era amphibious aircraft as a “key Russian asset” as the Kremlin “struggles to deal with concurrent threats” around the south of the war-torn country, according to a new assessment.
Russia’s Naval Aviation forces are using the decades-old Be-12 Mail amphibious aircraft to conduct maritime air patrols over the region, the British defense ministry said on Monday in an intelligence update posted to social media.
The turboprop-powered aircraft, also known as the Chayka or Seagull, was designed in the early days of the Cold War for anti-submarine and maritime patrols. Footage circulating online throughout the war in Ukraine, now in its 20th month, suggests Russia is still using them in and around Crimea.
It is “highly likely” these aircraft are on the lookout for uncrewed surface vessels, the U.K. government said. Newsweek reached out to the Russian defense ministry for comment via email.
Ukraine has increasingly targeted Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, based in Crimea, as well as bridges linking the Russian-controlled peninsula to annexed southern Ukraine and to mainland Russia.
Kyiv has heavily invested in uncrewed vehicles, both airborne and waterborne, to menace Russia’s Black Sea Fleet close to Ukraine’s southern coast. Ukraine doesn’t have a heavily equipped navy, but it has forged ahead with its sea drone development program.
Ukraine’s authorities released footage of its “Sea Baby” aquatic drones attacking the Kerch Bridge, connecting Russia to Crimea, in mid-July, and its naval drones have attacked Russian vessels based in the Black Sea ports of Sevastopol and Novorossiysk.
Ukraine’s surface drone fleet “serves for conducting special operations, and for sure it has its role in the liberation of the temporarily occupied Black Sea coastal area,” Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister and top politician for Ukraine’s unmanned vehicle development, told Newsweek in early August.
Russia’s Naval Aviation forces have taken on a “particularly important role” in recent weeks, the British defense ministry said, as they scour the area to spot Ukraine’s naval drones before they reach Russian bases.
“A key Russian asset in these operations is the Be-12 Mail amphibious aircraft, designed in the 1950s, flying out of bases in occupied Crimea,” the U.K. government said.
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