What do we know about the Ukrainian missiles Neptune with which the Russian cruiser Moskva was hit. How could the attack have taken place

The anti-ship missiles with which Ukraine managed to attack Russia’s most important Black Sea Warship were developed in the country, were new and, in theory, not yet operational. Rumors that Ukraine has used Neptune anti-ship missiles are not yet confirmed, but signs of a potential strategy used by Ukrainians for this attack are already available.

After the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the abrupt way in which Ukraine then lost much of its fleet, and with it and its defense capabilities at sea, Kiev decided to develop its own anti-ship weapon, but to it can launch it from the coast with a mobile launcher system.

This is how the Neptune Rk-260MT anti-ship system was born , with a turbojet-powered rocket developed by the “Luch” design office in Kiev.

In terms of military research and development, the Neptune RK-360MT was built in record time, but it should be noted that it is based on all Soviet-origin technology and know-how (Kh-35U). Even so, the missile was developed and built entirely in Ukraine, mostly using the national armament industry.

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The rocket borrows the launch booster from the S-125 anti-aircraft system and uses an MS-400 turbojet engine:

RK-360MT – missile specifications:

  • Dimensions : 5.05 mx 0.40
  • Weight : 870 kg (warhead weighs 150 kg)
  • Operational range: 280-300 km
  • Cruising speed: high subsonic speed (approx. 800-900 km / h)
  • Flight height : 3-10 m
  • Missile range radius : 48 km
  • Guide : Radar

The first Neptune missile system was scheduled to become operational only this spring

The system and missiles were effectively tested between 2018 and 2020, in 2020 the contract was signed with the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, and the first system would have taken possession of the naval forces in 2021. However, at the time of the war in Ukraine no Neptune system it was not really operational, and the latest pre-conflict estimates said that the first division would be declared operational on the Black Sea coast only in the spring of 2022 .

The first and only division that was close to being operational before the conflict had six launchers with a total of 72 missiles (including in reloading units), such as command units and support radars.

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ESRI map explaining the range of Neptune missile system
ESRI map explaining the range of Neptune missile system

How the attack was carried out: Ukrainians allegedly used a Bayraktar drone to locate the Russian ship

From Snake Island to the Ukrainian coast to Odessa is about 100 kilometers in a straight line, which means that any military ship would have been far beyond the horizon and quite difficult to detect, at least not in a fast way to do not alert the enemy.

Sources in the OSINT community write that the Ukrainians tried to locate the Moskva cruiser with a Bayraktar TB-2 drone, and even to draw attention and fire on it.

There are signs that the Ukrainians may have tried something similar the other day, when the Russian Ministry of Defense released a video claiming that one of its warships shot down a Bayraktar drone over the Black Sea.

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The drone could have transmitted the ship’s relative position to shore, at which point the powerful Mineral-U radar of the Neptune system could have been activated and used for a very short time in the direction of the Russian ship to obtain a much more accurate location.

The Mineral-U radar of the Neptune system is an Over-The-Horizon (OTH) type radar, which can detect targets along the horizon line (the theoretical distance for this radar would be about 600 km). However, the use of such a powerful radar also alerts the enemy, especially if it is used for a longer period of time.

After locating the target with the Mineral-U radar, one of the Neptun launchers allegedly launched the missiles needed for the attack. There is talk of two missiles hitting the ship, but it is not known how many missiles were fired by the Ukrainians.

How many missiles did the Ukrainians actually launch? Why did the Russian ship’s anti-aircraft system fail to intercept them?

The Neptune missile division that was to be declared operational at the Black Sea in 2022 had 7 launchers, each with 4 tubes. That is, 28 missiles that could have been launched all within a few seconds of each other on each launcher.

Once launched towards the radar-detected target, the missiles would have landed above the sea, would have descended to a flight ceiling just above the sea surface at 3-10 m (ie below the enemy’s line of sight, quite difficult to detect with radar on ships of war).

Neptune anti-ship rocket filmed flying a few meters above the Black Sea (in tests)
Neptune anti-ship rocket filmed flying a few meters above the Black Sea (in tests)

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The missiles would then activate their own target search and detection radar at a distance of about 48-45 kilometers. Launching their own radar would have aimed them exactly at the target, but at the same time the missiles would have been much easier to detect by the Russian ship.

If the missiles had been detected by the cruiser Moskva , in theory it would have had something to answer for: Moscow operates an anti-aircraft missile system on board the equivalent of a naval S-300 (SA-N-4 Grumble). Moskva had 64 S-300F interceptors on board.

In addition, the warship also had short-range anti-aircraft defense with Osa systems (2×20 missiles), but also very close defense of the CIWS type with AK-630M cannons (6 such cannons).

In theory, the Russian ship would have been among the most capable on the air defense side and would have had enough countermeasures against large, relatively slow missiles that also use radar technology (easy to detect) for guidance.

Unconfirmed information from no official source so far says at least two of Neptune’s missiles hit the cruiser. Russia says the ship was in fact badly damaged after the ammunition on board exploded.

Moskva cruiser
Moskva cruiser

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