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Moskva: How Russia’s Sunken Warship Will Change Naval Warfare Forever

Moskva
"Moskva" ("Moscow") (ex-"Slava", which means "Glory") is the lead ship of the Project 1164 Atlant class of guided missile cruisers in the Russian Navy. This warship was used in the 2008 Russia-Georgia War. The Black Sea. Sevastopol bay. This photo was taken from a boat.

The Moskva was taken out by Ukraine’s Neptune anti-ship missiles. Naval history could now shift dramatically: It was the blub blub blub heard ’round the world. On April 15, Russia acknowledged the missile cruiser Moskva, its Black Sea flagship, had sunk while being towed back to port, having been crippled by explosions and ensuing fires. Ukraine claimed that it had hit the ship with two R-360 Neptune anti-ship cruise missiles. Russia disputed the claim, however, the Pentagon corroborates Ukraine’s version.

Russia’s denials notwithstanding, the incident has profound implications, not just for Russia’s war of aggression on its neighbor, but also for the way global naval forces operate and the risks they take.

It’s been 40 years since a ship comparable in size to the 611-meter Moskva was sunk by a hostile force. In 1982, Argentine light cruiser ARA General Belgrano was torpedoed by the Royal Navy submarine Conqueror during the 10-day Falklands War. The last time the world saw hostile ship sinkings and naval warfare on a broader scale was in World War II. Since then, the U.S. and other world powers have been developing and maintaining navies that are hardened and equipped for war, but likely to spend their entire service lives without seeing a peer sea battle.

Moskva’s problematic set-up

How Moskva fared contains lessons on ship design as well as fleet employment, said Jerry Hendrix, a senior fellow with the Sagamore Institute and a retired Navy captain.

Moskva was rendered ineffective by a deck fire made more damaging when it reached the ship’s above-deck missile tubes. The Slava-class cruiser design incorporates 16 launchers for the P-500 Bazalt supersonic cruise missile situated on each side of the ship’s superstructure. Those unprotected missiles can have the effect of friendly fire under the right circumstances.

“Because [the launch tubes] are above deck, it makes them extremely vulnerable to damage and to fragmentation, and then causing damage to its own ship if the ship is hit first,” Hendrix told Sandboxx.

“If the ship does not fire off all of its missiles before it is hit… that missile then has congruences where it cooks off other missiles around it, and the ship virtually self-destructs because of the way it was designed,” he added.

By comparison, the U.S. Navy’s Ticonderoga-class cruisers house their missile tubes below deck. That allows the crew to flood the magazines in case of a fire. This renders the missiles safe in their housings and prevents a disastrous chain reaction, Hendrix explained.

Nonetheless, Hendrix said, the U.S. should heed the lessons of the Moskva and look for opportunities to move external armaments inside the skin of their warships. The Boeing-made, over-the-horizon Harpoon missile, for example, can be housed in above-deck launchers. It has been deployed in that configuration aboard a littoral combat ship and in some older surface ships.

Operating opposite hostile shores

Perhaps more significantly, Moskva’s sinking highlights the necessity of distributed operations in a world where peer and near-peer naval conflict is a real possibility.

Named for Russia’s capital city, Moskva was too much ship for the mission it was given in the Black Sea, Hendrix said. That underscores the value of smaller ships and right-sized missions over bold show-of-force displays.

“One of the things that we often say is, never send a cruiser to do what a frigate is supposed to do. This is a frigate mission; the Black Sea is a constrained water space. And really, there’s not an anti-ship cruise missile mission here,” Hendrix added. “So why is the Moskva in the Black Sea at this point in time? It’s more about prestige. And so, because [the Russians] risked their prestige, they have lost their prestige with this.”

As the U.S. Navy moves forward with plans to build at least 20 new Constellation-class frigates, the successor to the beleaguered LCS, Hendrix suggests that it should also think about operating in a distributed manner. Navy and Marine Corps leaders have for years promoted the concept of Distributed Maritime Operations and Expeditionary Advanced Basing Operations as a way to be more effective across a vast operating area such as the Pacific. Traditionally, though, the Navy deploys with carrier strike groups composed of five or six surface ships clustered around a flattop for defense.

Neptune Anti-Ship Missile

Neptune Anti-Ship Missile. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

“We’re having a very strong conversation now […] about how we disaggregate our force, spread it out across a broad ocean area, not all concentrated together, and then be able to quickly aggregate together to give sort of a compressed pulse of lethality,” Hendrix said. “So we’re working [on] these types of issues. But it’s all based upon the idea that the enemy is going to have a lot of these anti-ship cruise missiles ashore, and it’s going to be very hard to operate anywhere near them.”

Things are getting worse for Russia

For Russia, the Moskva’s sinking is the latest in a series of strategic setbacks: The deputy commander of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, Captain 1st Rank Andrei Nikolayevich Paly, was reportedly killed in combat in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol in March. Ukrainian officials say seven Russian generals have been killed in the fighting, though not all deaths are confirmed. After a lengthy assault on Kyiv, Russian troops withdrew from the city earlier this month without having gained control of it.

Moskva

Moskva Cruiser. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

“I think that the military in Russia is increasingly looking at this as they’re being bled out,” Hendrix said. “The Slava class is a major capital asset – it’s a large portion of their navy and their budget. So I think that there’s going to be increased pressure inside the Russian military to re-examine this war and how it’s being executed.”

Even the specific loss of the Moskva is significant: early in the conflict, Russian naval forces had attacked Ukraine’s Snake Island which was defended by a few dozen Ukrainian troops. In a recorded exchange, a Ukrainian border guard refused to surrender, saying, “Russian warship, go f— yourself.”

That ship was Moskva.

Hope Hodge Seck is an award-winning investigative and enterprise reporter who has been covering military issues since 2009. She is the former managing editor for Military.com. This first appeared in Sandboxx News. 

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Sandboxx News is a digital and print military media outlet focused on the lives, experiences, and challenges facing today’s service members and America’s defense apparatus. Built on the simple premise that service members and their supporters need a reliable news outlet free of partisan politics and sensationalism, Sandboxx News delivers stories from around the world and insights into the U.S. Military’s past, present, and future– delivered through the lens of real veterans, service members, military spouses, and professional journalists.

28 Comments

28 Comments

  1. greenman

    April 20, 2022 at 10:53 am

    The black sea will become a Ukrainian lake. Any invader ships in the black sea will become toast, or cannon fodder or missile fodder.
    The new Russian motto will become, join the navy and see the bottom of the black sea.

    • Klaus

      April 21, 2022 at 4:41 pm

      Any one a10,f14-f35 can carry 2 cruise missiles and take out any ship including carriers. Its not being too close to shore with a ship. What direction will they come from. Up down right left underwater forward behind land. You can’t hide. Everyone has spy sat. In the upper atmosphere. China has NSA clearance from Hunter.

      • Robert Inks

        April 22, 2022 at 10:52 am

        611 feet, not meters

  2. CK

    April 20, 2022 at 12:59 pm

    So much hubris here, and so many failures.

    As the author pointed out, why was a cruiser here to start with? Where was its anti-air frigate or destroyer screen? Why was it alone? Why weren’t its own considerable complement of 6 CIW guns not able to destroy a mere two missiles, almost the minimum expected for any attack?

    Etc etc etc. A catalogue of failures by the Russian navy. Really makes you question how much training these people are receiving, and who is leading them.

    A vessel that cost hundreds of millions to make, destroyed by two missiles at a fraction of the cost.

    Incredible.

  3. mcswell

    April 20, 2022 at 2:27 pm

    The count of Russian generals who died in Ukraine is reportedly up to eight now, the latest being Maj. Gen. Vladimir Frolov, whose death was announced a few days ago by the mayor of St. Petersburg.

  4. Mr. Clark

    April 20, 2022 at 8:40 pm

    Do countries really need a large blue navy? Super Ford carriers at the tune of 13 billion per. Hypersonic cruise missile unseen until they hit a sitting duck carrier. Better use of that money is a stealthy sub service. Converting boomers to SSNG carrying cruise missiles. Fast attack subs. Configuration of the new Boomer class Columbia submarine so it can launch Trident ICBMs or Cruise missiles.

    • Adam

      April 21, 2022 at 2:12 pm

      I am no military expert and this is just my thoughts on the question you asked.

      It depends on what the county’s objectives are and where the country is located in relation to where they want/need to project power.

      I would say in the United States case if the aim is to project power globally, then yes a large blue water Navy is needed. While the US can certainly airlift equipment around the world, you can move more heavy equipment by ship and those ships need protection.

      An aircraft carrier allows a nation to have a floating airbase when the surrounding countries, where the conflict is located, will not allow the use of its airbases or overflights. Those aircraft carriers need protection too. The modern conflicts that the United States has been involved in are not in our region unless you count the Cuban Missile Crisis. They have been in the middle east and Europe. So they need a large blue water navy.

      As you pointed out a blue water navy is expensive for any country. For a country like modern Russia, they seem more concerned with regional conflicts. So in their case I would say a “large” blue water navy is probably a waste of money and could be better spent in other areas of their military, as it seems most of their modern conflicts have been regional. From what I have seen, I would say the Russian Navy is some where between a regional and a blue water navy.

    • Brian

      April 21, 2022 at 8:40 pm

      Seriously???

      The Moskva was 611 FEET long,not meters. And it was over 40 years old – as you noted yourself, modern ships aren’t made that way, so there are no lessons to be learned. Why was it in the Black Sea? Maybe because it was the flagship of the Black Sea fleet. At its age, it wasn’t good for much else. As far as significance, other than the ‘prestige’ factor, it was an aging (outdated) hull in a 350-ship navy. Really, who writes this stuff?

  5. Alex

    April 21, 2022 at 12:00 am

    I previously wrote that there is an option where Neptune missiles could be aimed at the target using the American Orion satellite. Whether this is so is not known for certain, these are just the assumptions of one military analyst from the United States.
    Of course, we all understand that the Bandera Nazis want this to be true. Of course, we all understand that this is beneficial to the Pentagon for the information war. This article was not written only lazy. However, all these articles have only one thing in common: assumptions, desires, fantasies and propaganda. Facts are zero.

  6. CK

    April 21, 2022 at 12:08 am

    Fact: Moskva is sunk. No amount of tears or excuses will change that.

  7. Alex

    April 21, 2022 at 5:56 am

    Fact: the Sagaidachny ship was drowned by the Bandera Nazis, and the cruiser Moscow was either on a mine or from missiles, but in a combat situation. And he was not killed by “his own”, like thousands of Ukrainians, real Ukrainians, who were killed by the Bandera Nazis. Now Bandera Nazis will slowly die at the plant. Justice always triumphs.

  8. CK

    April 21, 2022 at 8:54 am

    So you are saying scuttling your own ship is somehow worse than losing it in combat and/or because of incompetence with actual casualties and huge propaganda value to the enemy?

    I’d ask if you’re stupid Alex, but we all know the answer to that question. Always good for a laugh, if nothing else.

  9. Steven Shumaker

    April 21, 2022 at 1:13 pm

    This article is basically wrong.

    It doesn’t change anything concerning the Navy. It doesn’t rethink anything either.

    Everything is accounted for in the U.S. As for Russia they simply haven’t been following Modern Warfare Doctrine that goes back to WWII. Not with tanks or troop movements. As for the Navy they have been hugging the coast lines or at Port every time something bad happened to their Navy, that’s called lack of respect.

  10. Karl

    April 21, 2022 at 7:24 pm

    I remember cringing and writing about it years ago whenever they would send carriers anywhere near the straights of Hormuz. It’s just a bathtub and a 5000 man carrier is a toy boat ready to be sunk. I hope the US Navy is Paying attention AND that the US HAS built it’s last super carrier. Like Tanks, taken out so easily by a single man. Times and tech are changing.

  11. Brian

    April 21, 2022 at 8:42 pm

    Seriously???

    The Moskva was 611 FEET long,not meters. And it was over 40 years old – as you noted yourself, modern ships aren’t made that way, so there are no lessons to be learned. Why was it in the Black Sea? Maybe because it was the flagship of the Black Sea fleet. At its age, it wasn’t good for much else. As far as significance, other than the ‘prestige’ factor, it was an aging (outdated) hull in a 350-ship navy. Really, who writes this stuff?

  12. Alex

    April 21, 2022 at 11:33 pm

    As I wrote earlier, this cruiser could be sunk by missiles using guidance from the American Orion satellite, as a respected American military expert says. But on the other hand, he also says that this is not the only version, but the fact that now the propaganda media of Ukraine and the United States and Britain will shout for a long time that it was precisely the missiles and the Bandera Nazis did everything themselves is undoubtedly. The spirit of the Armed Forces of Ukraine is so low that they surrender by the thousands, and by the case of desertion – by the thousands. However, even a huge number of articles about the “victory” over the cruiser could not achieve an effect: the remnants of the military of the Armed Forces of Ukraine surrender and run away from the army. That’s all the facts.

  13. CK

    April 22, 2022 at 5:04 am

    Yes yes Alex, deflect some more. Humiliating loss for you guys either way (the article being right about the future of naval warfare or not) and making up falsehoods about Ukrainian surrender won’t change that.

    Did you hear Ukraine claimed the wreck as a national underwater heritage site lol… the humiliation of Russia knows no end 😀

  14. Alex V

    April 22, 2022 at 9:20 am

    The US Navy has had multiple ships sustain and survive combat damage. Stark Exocet missile, Roberts mine, Tripoli mine, Princeton mine, Cole IED.

  15. Alex

    April 23, 2022 at 9:53 am

    The official version of Russia is a freelance situation.
    The unofficial version of Western analysts is this:

    The cruiser was in the Odessa region, closer to Romania. A year ago, they put a new phased array locator on it, the illumination range is 500 km! Why was he there? Ukrainian planes flew to the airfield in Romania, and from there they took off towards the sea, made a detour, and from the Odessa side went ashore, then flew to Dnepropetrovsk and Zaporozhye, and struck at the Russian troops. All the airfield, in the area of ​​​​Nikolaev and Odessa, were broken, and they could not understand where? Therefore, they drove Moscow with a powerful locator! It began to shine, and from the airfields of the Crimea and from near Donetsk, our Su 35 crests began to be intercepted, so 9 MiGs and Sushki were shot down. All this was calculated by NATO. And here is the result. First, the cruiser was hit from a drone, the radars and antennas were smashed! The cruiser shot down one. But already half blind. Then Khokhols launched 2 Neptune cruise missiles from the shore. Guidance was carried out by NATO Orion, which hung over Romania, he also turned on the REP, and lit up the cruiser’s air defense detection station! The missiles went to the ship, with the homing heads turned off so that the ship would not detect the radiation beam, the guidance was carried out by NATO Orion. By transmitting the exact coordinates of the ship to the missiles. The result was 2 hits, ammunition detonation, and the cruiser began to sink.
    The Moskva cruiser, in addition to its main purpose – the destruction of KUG and AUG, is capable of providing long-range air defense for a shipborne strike group with the S-300F Fort complex, at a range of detecting air targets up to 300 km.
    The cruiser was assigned the following task: Combat duty 100-120 km from Odessa in order to control the airspace within a radius of 250-300 km. That. ensure that the southern half of Moldova, the space from Izmail to Odessa and part of the territory of Romania (including the port of Constanta) is covered with its location field.
    “Moscow” greatly interfered with the covert transfer of military aircraft (helicopters and planes) from the territory of Romania to the territory of Ukraine.
    The cruiser was monitored by NATO air reconnaissance.
    The destruction of the flagship of the fleet was planned as a strategic task
    Therefore, the operation of delivering anti-ship missiles to Odessa took place in strict secrecy and under the cover of electronic warfare.
    RCC was chosen as the “killer” of the cruiser, but not “Neptune” – as Ukrainian propaganda spreads, but
    RCC of the fifth generation NSM (Naval Strike Missile, range – 185 km, developed by Norway-USA.
    This type of RCC was chosen from the need to achieve a 100% result
    NSM is able to reach the target along the programmed route thanks to the INS with GPS correction, to independently find the target, flying up to it at a height of 3-5 meters. When reaching the target, the NSM maneuvers and puts electronic interference. A highly sensitive thermal imager is used as a homing system, which independently determines the most vulnerable spots of the target ship.
    A stationary container installation, secretly delivered to Ukraine, was used as a launcher. Thus,
    after the damage to the cruiser Moskva, which led to its sinking, NATO reopened an air corridor for the transfer of aircraft to the airfields of the Chernivtsi, Transcarpathian and Ivano-Frankivsk regions.
    After the destruction of the cruiser Moskva, the Black Sea Fleet unfortunately no longer has a single ship with a long-range anti-aircraft missile system.
    But this is just a theory, in which all of NATO was involved, against a single ship. Perhaps that is why Russia switched to defense tactics against the entire NATO, and this will not end well for NATO.

    However, a three-band Nebo-M radar station is located in Crimea, which is capable of tracking all air targets at a distance of up to 600 km. This radar controls the sky to the city of Chernivtsi.

  16. CK

    April 23, 2022 at 1:23 pm

    You see? Another classic Russian propaganda tactic. Just fill the internet and the airwaves with noise – lies, truth, deception, half-truths, the truth, doesn’t matter. Overwhelm people with information, numbers, statistics, arguments, claims, etc. Although preferably most if not all should be untruths.

    If anyone knows Alex, you know well the falsehoods he peddles, and the entire mines of salt you need to take his words with.

    Also, it’s strange Alex – in the other thread, you said NATO and the West can’t do anything, and here you directly contradict yourself, saying they sank or were directly involved in sinking your flagship.

    You see the lies? The contradictions? So transparent and as see-through as Sveta’s working attire.

    Pick a lie and stick to it at least.

  17. Alex

    April 24, 2022 at 4:50 am

    Another US military analyst openly laughed at the suggestion that the cruiser was sunk by Neptune missiles: “It’s as ridiculous as having an admiral in the non-existent fleet of Ukraine,” he concluded.

  18. CK

    April 24, 2022 at 6:03 am

    Yes, and imagine how ridiculous it is to lose your Black Sea Flagship, in a land war, against a country with no navy (and no admiral, as you ut it) – humiliating.

  19. Alex

    April 25, 2022 at 10:48 am

    Yes, Russia has big “problems”:
    There is the Donetsk People’s Republic. There is the Luhansk People’s Republic. Kherson applied to Russia for a referendum to establish the Kherson People’s Republic. God bless the Ukrainians of Donbass!

  20. CK

    April 25, 2022 at 11:03 am

    Yes Alex, and Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania also re-applied to join the Russian Federation. In this reality, Putin has conquered his hemorrhoids, and you and Sveta live happily ever after.

    It’s nice to sit back and daydream, isn’t it? 🙂

  21. Alex

    April 26, 2022 at 2:21 am

    Why is Russia with the people’s militia of Donbass taking new territories of Ukraine every day? Let’s figure it out:

    The West failed to turn much of the world against Russia after the military operation in Ukraine began, columnist Howard French wrote in an article for Foreign Policy magazine.
    According to him, many states did not support sanctions against Moscow, including such large countries as India and China.

    “In fact, when counting the population of these countries, it becomes clear that the states representing the majority of humanity have not taken a position in this conflict, seeing in it the familiar echoes of the former rivalry between East and West,” said French .
    According to the observer, the international political system that took shape at the beginning of the twentieth century from the very beginning gave the countries of the “third world” the status of second-class states. As an example, he cited the colonization of Africa by European countries.

    “It was the work of the work and cotton in the people of sugar unpaid smelted and all made of American colonies profitable Europe, and the so- rich for “Old the World” new and millions did ,” the author emphasized.

    French urged not to ignore the heightened sense of justice among the former colonized peoples.

    “The whole world” with Ukraine 🙂

  22. CK

    April 26, 2022 at 7:21 am

    Well Alex, if that is the case, we wish you the best of luck with your new Chinese masters. I hear they are very kind to minorities.

    Also, the Moskva is still sunk 🙂

  23. Alex

    April 29, 2022 at 9:32 am

    If someone wants to know the truth about the civil war in the Donbass, about all the atrocities of the Bandera clean-ups and why Russia was forced to intervene, then it is better to watch films by independent journalists. There are already many such journalists who fight for truth and freedom. For example, a documentary by the German journalist Wilhelm Domcke-Schulz.

    A documentary film about the war crimes of the Bandera Nazis during the period of Russia’s special military operation to denazify and demilitarize Ukraine is in production. It will be a real information bomb, where the war crimes of Bandera Nazis will be shown and proved.

    The documentary “Remember Odessa” tells how the Bandera Nazis burned Ukrainians alive and other heinous war crimes.

    The documentary “To Live and Die in Donbass” tries to fill this gaping information gap in the West. He looks into the tormented soul of the inhabitants of Donbass, who really want only one thing – to live self-determining according to their own rules and values. Not submitting to foreign forces and ideologies.

    In the east of Ukraine, in the Donbass, a war has been raging since the beginning of 2014. A civil war that claimed more than 15,000 lives over the years, including several hundred children. They had to die, because the national-fascist coup government in Kyiv, funded by the West, trained and militarily heavily armed, would not tolerate any resistance to their illegitimate rule, no matter the cost.

    Therefore, in April 2014, the putschists deployed the Ukrainian army, supported by dozens of right-wing extremist volunteer battalions, and have since bombed city centers, residential areas, schools, hospitals and infrastructure, killing civilians.

    This perennial crime has gone completely unnoticed by the Western public. Politicians and the media avoid this topic and reports about how the devil pours holy water. Because a public discussion about the crimes of the Ukrainian regime would reveal only one thing – with what mass murderers and terrorists the so-called “west of values” in Ukraine has a common language, if only to defend their goals and interests.

    Lend-lease is a commodity loan, and not cheap: for all the ammunition, equipment and food supplied by the United States, many future generations of Ukrainian citizens will pay. Zelensky is driving the country into a debt hole.

  24. CK

    April 29, 2022 at 2:18 pm

    Ah, I see your tactic. You add a little shitty first paragraph so it doesn’t detect your duplicate post. Is this what it has come to now, you just posting the same exact post 2, 3, 4, 5 times per article?

    Wow, did they run out of paper in Russia, Alex? You guys can’t print new material? Literally using the same lines, over and over again, and now in duplicate in every post!

    Are you so defeated you can’t even come up with anything new? How sad. Now the idiot is talking about lend-lease at the end of his post, because he literally just copy + pasted it from another thread, with zero relevance to this one.

    Here’s a reminder:

    If someone wanted to know the truth about anything in Ukraine Alex, the last person they would go to is you.

    Paragraphs and paragraphs of bollocks, dubious claims about “independent journalists”, random documentarians, conspiracy theorists, deluded claims that of course, have no backup, lie after lie after lie.

    Classical Kremlin troll approach. Just flood the internet, the comments, the media, with tosh, doesn’t matter what it is, just make sure you write some old nonsense. Make sure to say the claim is supported by some dude in Germany, France, the states. If it’s a “documentary” (usually from youtube) then the better.

    Anything that victimises Russia, always the victim, always the bullied, never the problem. It’s always the Nazis. It’s always some pseudo-historical point.

    Anyone that has had the misfortune to study your “tactics” sees the forest for the trees, the pattern of lies, disinformation, blanketing of random claims, deflection, obfuscation, and other words beyond your vocabulary.

    It’s hopeless Alex. Your lies are as short as your intellect. What a pathetic job, to sit in your government shed, spreading your pathetic, government lies.

    A pathetic job for a truly pathetic man. A better match could not be made in heaven.

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