Here’s everything we know about Ukraine’s Neptune missiles

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A senior US defense official confirmed to NPR that Ukrainian Neptune missiles were responsible for the sinking of the Russian flagship, the Moskva.

Last week we reported the Ukrainian claim that its Neptune missiles hit the Russian Slava-class guided missile cruiser twice. However, Russian authorities reported that a fire had broken out on board, which also caused an explosion of ammunition on the ship, prompting an evacuation of the crew. The aircraft carrier is believed to have sunk while being towed and now lies on the seabed in an undisclosed location.

The Neptune Rocket System

Named after the Roman god of the seas, the Neptune 360 ​​ST is a land-based rocket system equipped with anti-ship missiles. As we reported earlier, the rocket system has a Soviet origin and was originally developed in the early 1970s. It took decades of work to get the rocket deployed even in the Russian Federation under the name of Kh-35 missiles, with a range of about 75 miles (120 km) in 2003.

Ukraine, however, only started developing the system in 2013, and even after five years of development by the state-owned Luch Design Bureau (LDB), the anti-ship missiles had a range of 62 miles ( 100 km), just like the Kh-35. During testing over the following years, the range of the missiles increased significantly, with the LDB claiming a range of 186 miles (300 km).

Anti-ship missiles can be fired at a wide range of ships such as destroyer frigates, corvettes, tank landing ships or, in the recent case, cruisers, from a truck equipped with four launchers . Once in position, less than 15 miles (25 km) from the coast, the rocket system is ready to launch in less than 15 minutes. It can fire up to 16 rockets in a salvo with a maximum delay of five seconds between each launch, according to an LDB brochure. When fired, the truck can leave its position to take a new one and can move at a maximum speed of 43 mph (70 km/h) on highways.

The Neptune rockets themselves measure just over 16 inches (420 mm) in diameter and weigh over 1,900 pounds (870 kg). In weight comparison, the rocket is slightly lighter than the US Harpoon anti-ship missile and carries a 330-pound (150 kg) explosive warhead.

To evade the air defense measures with which modern warships are equipped, Neptune rockets fly barely 10-30 feet above the surface of the water. This not only helps the weapon stay under the enemy’s radar, but also helps them cover their distance faster, giving the opponent less time to react if the rocket is detected in flight.

It’s unclear if the Moskva failed to fully detect the Neptune or if its defenses failed against the rocket system, The New York Times reported. Warships often try to stay out of range of these mobile weapon systems while at sea. We don’t know why or how the Moskva was allowed to sail so close to Ukrainian shores.

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