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Explained: What is the Neptune cruise missile that severely damaged Russian warship Moskva?

The cruise missile was developed in haste by the military as the Russian threat to the coastal areas of Ukraine was growing rapidly since the occupation of Crimea in 2014.

The Neptune anti-ship cruise missile system. (Photo: Ukrainian Ministry of Defence)

Ukraine, via a Telegram post late Wednesday, claimed to have severely damaged the Russian Black Sea Fleet Flagship ‘Moskva’ off the coast of Odessa via a missile strike on the ship.

The Russians claimed that an onboard ammunition fire caused the blasts on the ship, while the Ukrainians stated that it was a planned strike using the Neptune anti-ship cruise missiles. We take a look at what the Neptune anti-ship cruise missiles are and how they strike a target.

What is the type of cruise missile that hit the Moskva?

The Ukrainians claim that the Moskva was hit by two anti-ship cruise missiles called the Neptune. Ironically, the design of this missile is based on a Russian Kh-35 cruise missile which goes by the NATO name of AS-20 Kayak.

The Neptune Missile system was inducted into the Ukrainian Defence Forces in March 2021 after being in development for around six years. The cruise missile was developed in haste by the military as the Russian threat to the coastal areas of Ukraine was growing rapidly since the occupation of Crimea in 2014. According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence, the Neptune is a coastal anti-ship cruise missile which is capable of destruction of naval vessels in a range of 300 km.


In a statement during the induction ceremony, the Ukrainian Defence Minister was quoted as saying that they intended to integrate Neptune with missile boats, patrol vessels and corvettes as an integrated defence system which could take on any attack from the seas.

What is Moskva, the ship that was hit by the missile?

Moskva is a guided missile cruiser of the Russian Navy named after the city of Moscow. It has a displacement of 12,490 tons. It is the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Navy and carries a crew of around 500 personnel. The Moskva was originally commissioned as the Slava in 1983. It was recommissioned in 2000 as the Moskva with refurbished weapon systems and electronics. It had hit the headlines in the Ukrainian conflict when there were reports that it had asked the Ukrainian troops on Snake Island to surrender and received a reply of: “Russian warship go f*** yourself”.

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How was Wednesday’s attack carried out?

Initial reports suggest that the Neptune cruise missile attack was carried out using TB-2 drones as decoys along with other measures towards saturation of the cruiser’s Air Defence systems. This caused distraction and enabled the cruise missiles to slip through the ship’s defences.

The Ukrainians had previously claimed to have hit Russian Naval vessels in the Black Sea but none appear to have been as big as the Moskva or suffered as much damage as it.

How severe is the damage?

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There are unconfirmed reports that Moskva has rolled on to its side after being struck by the cruise missiles and that it is close to sinking. However, these are Ukrainian reports and have not been confirmed by the Russian Navy. There are also unconfirmed visuals of a ship on fire which are being claimed to be of Moskva. New reports are appearing by the hour and many claim that the ship has already sunk. The Russians have, for now, only acknowledged that the ship has suffered damage.

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First published on: 14-04-2022 at 10:32 IST
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