The Strange Looking Ship that Made Russia Really Mad

Christian Baghai
4 min readNov 28, 2023


The HMS Defender is a British warship that made headlines in June 2021, when it sailed near the coast of Crimea, a disputed territory that Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014. The incident sparked a tense standoff between the two countries, with Russia claiming that it fired warning shots and dropped bombs to deter the ship, and Britain denying that any shots were fired and saying that the ship was conducting a routine passage through international waters.

But what makes the HMS Defender so special, and why did it provoke such a strong reaction from Russia? In this blog post, we will explore the features and capabilities of this strange looking ship, and the geopolitical context behind its controversial voyage.

The HMS Defender is one of the six Daring-class air-defense destroyers that are part of the Royal Navy’s Type 45 program. These ships are designed to provide air and missile defense for the British fleet, as well as escort and support other naval assets. They are equipped with the Sea Viper missile system, which can track and engage multiple targets at ranges of up to 400 km, using the Aster 15 and Aster 30 missiles. The Sea Viper system also includes the SAMPSON radar, which is mounted on a distinctive mast above the ship’s bridge. This radar can rotate at 60 rpm, providing a 360-degree coverage of the airspace around the ship.

The HMS Defender also has other weapons and sensors, such as a 4.5-inch main gun, two 30 mm cannons, two Phalanx close-in weapon systems, four machine guns, eight Harpoon anti-ship missiles, and a helicopter hangar and flight deck that can accommodate a Merlin or a Wildcat helicopter. The ship has a displacement of 8,500 tonnes, a length of 152.4 meters, a beam of 21.2 meters, and a draught of 7.4 meters. It can reach a speed of over 30 knots, and has a complement of 190 crew members.

The HMS Defender was commissioned in March 2013, and is the fifth ship of its class. It is based in Portsmouth, and has participated in various operations and exercises, such as Operation Shader against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, Operation Kipion in the Persian Gulf, and Exercise Joint Warrior in the North Atlantic. In May 2021, the HMS Defender joined the UK Carrier Strike Group, led by the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, for a global deployment that included visits to India, Japan, South Korea, and Singapore.

The HMS Defender’s mission in the Black Sea was part of this deployment, and was intended to demonstrate the UK’s commitment to the security and stability of the region, as well as to support Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The ship entered the Black Sea on June 14, 2021, and conducted a series of engagements with NATO allies and partners, such as Romania, Georgia, and Turkey. On June 18, the ship docked in Odessa, Ukraine, where it signed a naval cooperation agreement with the Ukrainian Navy, and hosted a visit by the UK’s Defense Secretary Ben Wallace and the First Sea Lord Admiral Tony Radakin.

On June 23, the HMS Defender left Odessa and headed towards Batumi, Georgia, along the internationally recognized traffic separation scheme that runs parallel to the Crimean coast. This route, however, was contested by Russia, which considers the waters around Crimea as its own, despite the international condemnation of its annexation of the peninsula. Russia accused the HMS Defender of violating its territorial waters, and claimed that it fired warning shots and dropped bombs to force the ship to change course. The UK denied these claims, and said that the HMS Defender was exercising its right of innocent passage under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and that the shots and bombs were part of a Russian gunnery exercise that was announced beforehand. The UK also said that the HMS Defender was shadowed by Russian warships and aircraft, but that the interactions were professional and safe.

The incident was the most serious confrontation between Russia and a NATO member in the Black Sea since the annexation of Crimea, and raised fears of a possible escalation of tensions in the region. The UK and its allies condemned Russia’s actions as aggressive and destabilizing, and reaffirmed their support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Russia, on the other hand, warned that it would not tolerate any violations of its borders, and threatened to use force if necessary. The HMS Defender continued its journey to Georgia, where it conducted joint exercises with the Georgian Navy, and then left the Black Sea on June 28, 2021.

The HMS Defender is a strange looking ship that made Russia really mad, but also a powerful and versatile ship that made Britain proud. It is a symbol of the UK’s naval strength and global reach, as well as of its commitment to the rules-based international order and the security of its allies and partners.