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Experts: Militants may use explosive-laden boats to attack Russian warships in Syria

Military experts do not rule out that terrorists might use explosive-stuffed boats or drones to attack Russian warships in Syria

MOSCOW, January 9. /TASS/. Russian military experts do not rule out that terrorists in Syria might use explosive-stuffed boats operated by suicide bombers or drones to attack Russian warships.

The Russian defense ministry reported earlier that terrorists in Syria had used unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to attack Russia’s airbase at Hmeymim and the naval logistics center in Tartus. The attack was repelled, with seven drones being shot down and six being intercepted.

Boats with explosives in Tartus

"Today, it is vitally important to be prepared for comprehensive threats as we cannot rule out suicide bombers’ using motorboats to attack Russian warships and auxiliary vessels calling at Tartus," said Igor Korotchenkov, editor-in-chief of the National Defense magazine.

He recalled an incident in the Persian Gulf when suicide bombers used a TNT-stuffed motorboat to ram the US destroyer USS Cole.

Apart from that, he said that "drone attacks on Russian diplomatic facilities" were not ruled out either. "Thus, attention should be focused on our embassy in Damascus. It is necessary to reinforce its security systems with electronic warfare support devices," he said.

Another expert, editor-in-chief of the Arsenal Otechestva (Homeland Arsenal) magazine Viktor Murakhovsky shared this viewpoint.

"An unmanned boat is no problem either from the commercial or the engineering point of view. Any motorboat can be equipped with a control system, then be loaded with explosives and be driven into a target. Such a system can be mounted on a motorcar or aby other transport vehicle," he said, recalling that the Yemeni Houthis had used an unmanned boat against Saudi Arabia.

According to Murakhovsky, Russian ships in Tartus can be protected against such threats by means of using defense booms and patrol boats. "Such explosive-stuffed boats can well be detected by optical and radio radars and destroyed by machinegun and automatic gun fire," he noted.

Who made UAVs

The programming of systems to control unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and drop GPS-guided munitions requires undergoing engineering school studies in a developed country, the Russian defense ministry said following the attack on Russia’s Hmeymim airbase in Syria.

"It is necessary to undergo studies at a qualified engineering school in one of the developed countries to program systems for controlling aircraft-type UAVs and dropping GPS-guided ammunition. Moreover, hardly anyone can get accurate coordinates based on space intelligence data," the ministry said, adding that this is what terrorists lacked until recently.

According to Korotchenko, about 20 countries possess UAV production technologies. "I can name production centers: NATO countries, including the United States, Middle East countries (Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Israel), as well as Turkey and Asia Pacific countries," he said.

In his words, terrorists could have recruited either engineers or security officers to maximally exclude national identification. "It is impossible to say what exact country was behind the attack without reliable intelligence data," he added. "Clandestine production is not ruled out in theory but I would accept the Russian defense ministry’s stance as it relied on intelligence data among other things."

Clandestine production

"Experience proves that militants fighting in Syria have learnt much. We know from open sources that various non-government groups have already used unmanned vehicles," said Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Center for Strategy and Technology Analysis. "The exterior of drones and munitions militants attempted to use against us in Hmeymim and Tartus suggests that these were home-made but well-done devised," he said.

"The UAV on the Russian defense ministry’s photo is a commercial product widely used across the world," said Murakhovsky. "There is no problem in contracting a kit to assemble such vehicle, including an airframe, an engine, a control system, servo units and even a GPS chip."

According to the expert, only the weapon payload could have come from foreign countries as the above mentioned drones were equipped with mini bombs made from mortar shells (manufactured in Italy, the United States and France) that are widely used in the West. "The metal stabilizer for propellant charges is removed to be replaced by an improvised plastic stabilizer with holes for fixing to the drone’s suspension gear. Everything is home-made, we can see that some parts are stuck with adhesive tape - obviously, these are not industrial products," he noted.

"It’s a secret to no one that Islamic State (a terrorist organization outlawed in Russia) militants used drones made in other countries in Syria and Iraq but the Russian defense ministry’s photos feature clandestine UAVs assembled from commercially available components," said Denis Fedutinov, editor-in-chief of the Unmanned Aviation magazine.