The Neptune anti-ship missile, explained: The battering of the Russian military in Ukraine continues. The latest victim seems to be the Russian Navy missile cruiser Moskva, which was hit by Ukrainian Neptune anti-ship missiles on Wednesday night.
The Moskva Incident
The Russian Ministry of Defense claims that there was an ammunition explosion on the ship that damaged it badly. The Ukrainians, however, claim that, in fact, it was their Neptune anti-ship missiles that struck the Moskva and that it had sunk.
As of Thursday morning, the fate of the vessel is unknown, with conflicting reports coming out of both sides. What is a fact, however, is that the Moskva is damaged badly.
A Slava-Class missile cruiser and the flagship of the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet, the Moskva packs quite a punch. The cruiser is designed to take out U.S. aircraft carriers, and it has 16 supersonic anti-ship missiles (SS-N-12 Sandbox) to do so.
Although the fact that it doesn’t carry land-attack cruise missiles diminishes its utility against an opponent with very limited naval capabilities, the Moskva has potent anti-aircraft area defense capabilities because it carries 64 S-300F Rif air defense missiles.
At almost 11,500 tons, the Moskva is a big ship, and it would take a very well-aimed Neptune anti-ship missile to take it out. However, the fact that it has its own missile launch tubes lying on the side of the vessel makes it vulnerable to an enemy strike.
If the Moskva has indeed been sunk, it will amount to the most significant naval action since the British submarine HMS Conqueror sank the Argentinian cruiser ARA General Belgrano in the Falklands War in 1982.
Neptune Anti-Ship Missile
The Neptune is based on the Soviet-era Zvezda Kh-35 anti-ship missile, but it comes with improved electronics, a larger body, and a vastly better operational range.
The Neptune anti-ship missile was developed by the Luch design bureau. It uses R-360 anti-ship cruise missile. First announced in 2013, the anti-ship missile completed its first operational tests three years later. In 2019, the Ukrainian military completed the development of the Neptune and ordered the first batches.
At over 5 meters, the Neptune carries a 320-pound High Explosive Fragmentation (HE-FRAG) warhead that can sink vessels up to 5,000 tonnes, for example, destroyers and frigates. The fact that it might have sunk the Moskva means that the Ukrainians either fired more than missiles or that it struck a magazine.
The Neptune anti-ship missile uses an internal navigation system to home on its target and will fly 10-15 meters above the water on its way to the target but will drop to 3-10 meters on its final approach so as to counter any ship defenses.
The Neptune anti-ship missile has a reported range of almost 175 miles, and it can be fired from land, air, and water. Before the Russian invasion, the Ukrainian military was planning on purchasing up to 90 launcher vehicles with Neptune missiles, but the Russian attack has put that plan on hold. Before the invasion, the Ukrainians had an estimated 20 launchers.
1945’s New Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.