Crimea, the southern peninsula of Ukraine currently occupied by Putin's military, is home to Russia's formidable Black Sea Fleet. Using satellite imagery as evidence, the New York Times reports that particular wing of the navy has formed a blockade to prevent Ukrainian ships from going in or out. And next to that blockade are a pair of extraordinary warships: the Bora-class guided missile hovercraft.
The hovercraft warships are the kind of vessel that inspire military aficionados to dedicate entire fansites to them. They are described by admirers as some of "the most unique and extreme warships ever come to light." They're known as Surface Effect Ships, or Sidewall Hovercraft, because they use both a massive air cushion and a catamaran-style design to increase their speed and mobility at sea. The Bora-class ships are unique because they're two of the only such vessels designed explicitly for combat, not to ferry and unload troops.
Naturally, they pack some serious firepower. The newer ship, the Samum (pictured above, in the center), boasts "two quad launchers for anti-ship missile complex 'Mosquito' (8 missiles 3M80), anti-aircraft missile system 'Osa-M' (20 missiles), one 76-mm gun mounts AK-176, two 30-mm gun mount AK-630," according to an official report prepared with the assistance of the Black Sea Naval Fleet and published online by the Encyclopedia of Safety.
The report also explains how its Mosquito cruise missiles are intended to work. They are "designed to destroy surface ships and transports from the ship battle groups, amphibious compounds convoys and single ships. 4-ton missile has a length of almost 10 meters and range up to 90 km. After launch the missile makes a 'hill' and then march down to the altitude of about 20 meters, at the approach to the goal of a reduction up to 7 meters (above the crest of the waves). The missile can perform intensive evasive maneuver with overloads in excess of 10. Due to the enormous kinetic energy and its polubroneboynoy warhead "Mosquito" pierces the hull of any ship and explode[s] inside."
Take a photo tour of the guided missile hovercraft, set to weird 80s-inspired elevator music, courtesy of the communist news organ, Pravda.
Though both ships were built in the 80s and 90s, Russia has evidently considered them successful enough to model a line of next-gen military hovercraft on.
The two hovercraft warships are currently helping to enforce Russia's naval blockade—the Times highlighted satellite imagery that showed one, the Samum, lurking in a nearby inlet, but was unable to locate the other.
The blockade is a serious, and permanent strategic maneuver: Russia already sunk one of its own vessels to help fortify it.
There are of course many other ships in the Black Sea Fleet, but this particular vessel helps underline the disparity between military might between the two nations: One side has a pair of guided missile-toting hovercraft, after all.