Ukrainian sailors are being trained to use underwater minehunter drones by the Royal Navy that will play a vital role in helping clear its coastline.
More than a dozen Ukrainian personnel have already started a three-week course at a facility in southern England, learning how to operate and analyze data from the vessels.
The drones scour seabeds using sonar technology and will be used by the Ukrainian navy to detect explosive threats in the water.
One sailor told Sky News the drones “will be very useful for us to clear the sea area, especially in a very critical region, close to Odesa”.
He added: “Our primary mission is to detect these mines because it’s very important not only for the military, but for civilian ships, for civilian trade.”
As the situation stands, fully demining the coastline could take a decade, but for now, the focus is on returning to Ukraine with the skills to “immediately” begin operating the drones.
He added: “The whole nation, like one fist, we are strong.”
The program is expected to be key in helping move ships carrying grain out of the country safely.
Exports from the Black Sea ports resumed at the beginning of August after Russia lifted its naval blockade – a blockade that has had devastating consequences on the supply and price of grain across the world.
However, exports are happening slowly, and are ultimately hampered by the threat of sea mines.
Lord Admiral Alan West, Former First Sea Lord, told Sky News that underwater drones will be a “game changer” for the Ukrainian Navy.
“They should be able to clear a main route out of their ports very quickly.
“That is very important because there is immense pressure, global pressure, to actually start shifting what one could call a grain mountain.
“And it’s not just grain, it’s also vegetable oil and maize. It’s impacting on the starvation levels in large parts of the world where they are right on the brink of starvation.
“This stuff needs to start moving.”
In total, six autonomous minehunting drones will be gifted to Ukraine, by both the UK and the US.
The training is being delivered by the Royal Navy’s Diving and Threat Exploitation Group alongside the US Navy 6th Fleet.
Sean Heaton, Commanding Officer of the Royal Navy Diving and Threat Exploitation Group, told Sky News: “At the moment, the important thing is for those commercial vessels to be able to get in and out.
Russian submarines tracked by Royal Navy in North Sea
“And therefore, for the Ukrainian Navy to be able to do their own searching of the seabed and understand exactly where the threats lie is vital to what they’re doing.”
Despite training being organized at short notice, he says the sailors have been incredibly motivated and quick to learn.
“Their enthusiasm and their energy levels to be able to both learn and understand these capabilities is truly remarkable.
“The fact that they know what this capability will give them when they go back home is what’s driving them and so to work with them, and have the opportunity to work with them, is a real privilege.”
Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said: “Russia’s cynical attempts to hold the world’s food supply to ransom must not be allowed to succeed.
“This vital equipment and training will help Ukraine make their waters safe, helping to smooth the flow of grain to the rest of the world and supporting the Armed Forces of Ukraine as they look to defend their coastline and ports.”