Ukrainian authorities on Thursday said the country’s military deployed its indigenous antiship missile, dubbed Neptune, in an attack on the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, the Moskva cruiser.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said the Moskva was abandoned by its crew after its ammunition blew up. It didn’t say what caused the fire and there was no independent confirmation of the type of weapons used.
If confirmed, the attack would be Ukraine’s most significant naval strike of the war and the first known use of the Neptune missile system, a medium-range cruise missile designed for use primarily against warships.
Ukraine doesn’t have significant missile capabilities but has been developing them. National-security authorities had earmarked billions of dollars for missile development over the coming decade, yet no such missiles have been produced in any real quantities.
The Neptune is an update of the Soviet-era KH-35 missile, which was fired from ships and planes, and was modified to strike from truck-mounted launchers at targets on both land and water. Its range is estimated to be 200 miles and its main prey would be cruisers such as the Moskva, along with destroyers and other warships.
When the war broke out in late February, Kyiv was carrying out final tests of the Neptune. Ukrainian defense officials had previously announced a timeline culminating in an April deployment. Privately, Ukrainian officials and defense analysts doubted the reality of that schedule, saying that the Neptune, despite impressive test videos, was far from being ready.
“If you had some available, you might be tempted to try to use them,” said Douglas Barrie, a defense fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a London think tank. “Even if unsuccessful, it would force the Russian navy to honor the threat.”