‘Neptune’ missile attack on Moscow ship shows the strength of Ukraine’s homemade arms

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Shortly after Russia conquered Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014, a Ukrainian defense company used an arms fair in Kiev to unveil its latest project: an anti-ship cruise missile, it called “Neptune”.

The new missile attracted some attention at the time. But now it’s in the spotlight after a U.S. defense official said Ukrainian forces used Neptune missiles to attack and sink Russia’s flagship Moscow warship in the Black Sea.

The strike on Wednesday marked a major boost for Ukraine – not only for its war effort but also for the home-made arms industry, although it relies on weapons donated by Western allies.

“For the Ukrainians, if they were able to sink this ship or damage it with their own Neptune missiles, it is first and foremost a pride and a useful military capability, as they will be able to keep the Russian fleet in chess.” said Mark Cancian, senior advisor for the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Since Russia invaded on February 24, foreign-made weapons have flooded into Ukraine. Among them are anti-tank weapons produced in the United States, handguns made in Europe and even Russian-designed anti-aircraft systems.

But Ukraine itself is a significant arms exporter, with a legacy of building missiles and missiles dating back to Soviet times.

Russia was once a key export market for these weapons: Between 2016 and 2020, 1 in 5 Ukrainian arms exports went to Ukraine’s bigger neighbor, according to tracking from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

But in recent years, Ukrainian weapons have also been developed to fight against Russian forces.

Ukraine’s military said its forces had fired Neptune anti – ship missiles at Moscow, damaged it and caused it to sink on Thursday. A senior U.S. defense attorney said Friday that two Neptune missiles had hit the ship.

Moscow only said a fire on board caused ammunition depots to detonate, leading to an evacuation of the crew. The ship later sank due to bad weather while being towed to port, Russia said.

On Friday, Russia’s Defense Ministry said it hit the Vizar factory on the outskirts of the Ukrainian capital. Ukraine’s state arms manufacturer, Ukroboronprom, said in a statement on its website that the Vizar plant was involved in the production of both Neptune missiles and Alder precision-guided missiles.

Some Ukrainians considered the sinking of Moscow a key moment for the domestic arms industry.

“For the first time, a warship was destroyed by an anti-ship missile made exclusively in Ukraine,” Daria Kaleniuk, executive director of the Anti-Corruption Action Center in Ukraine, wrote on Twitter.

Kaleniuk, a prominent social media activist, said the reported success of the attack showed that Ukraine could handle more technologically advanced weapons supplied by NATO countries.

Neptune was under development before Russia’s annexation of Crimea, but the conquest of the territory helped spur the missile’s production. The peninsula houses Ukraine’s most important naval base and Soviet-era coastal defense systems that had once protected the country from attacks along the Black Sea.

R-360 Neptune is itself based on an old Soviet cruise missile called Kh-35, which had been produced in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv. The company that developed Neptune, the Luch Design Bureau, was founded in 1965 and had a long history of designing Soviet missiles.

If Neptune missiles were fired at Moscow, it would mark the first time the weapon was used in practice, military experts say. The incident also suggests that the cruise missile, which has a stated range of about 200 miles, can evade missile defense systems such as those aboard the Russian ship.

The ship was equipped with long-range radar and an S-300 air defense system, designed to provide protection not only for itself but the rest of the Russian navy. Reports from Ukrainian officials suggest that an air drone was used to distract the defense systems during the attack.

Ukrainian officials said last year that four countries had expressed interest in importing Neptune missile systems for their own use, with Indonesia among those able to receive the first shipment.

But there are also concerns that Ukraine does not have enough weapons at home.

In an interview last year, Luch Design Bureau director Oleg Korostelov said that “due to lack of funding” his company would only be able to deliver up to 800 of the approximately 2,000 missiles that the Ukrainian military demanded.

“Unfortunately, our level of security is low,” he said when asked if Ukraine was ready to defend itself against a full-scale invasion.

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