How did Ukraine destroy the large Moskva warship
The 186 metres Moskva ship, one of the biggest warship, bristled with sensors, radio jammers and guns protected by three layers of air defence: batteries of S-300F and OSA-MA missiles to shoot down threats at long and shorter ranges respectively, and automated AK-630 Gatling guns to throw a wall of lead at anything that got too close, destroyed by Ukrainian Army.
How could an underdog have inflicted such a significant naval loss?
Russia cannot provide air defense for their fleet : Turkey has closed the Bosphorus and Dardanelles Straits, blocking the way for additional warships.
At 186 metres, the Moskva was nearly the length of two football pitches. It bristled with sensors, radio jammers and guns. The ship was protected by three layers of air defence: batteries of S-300F and OSA-MA missiles to shoot down threats at long and shorter ranges respectively, and automated AK-630 Gatling guns to throw a wall of lead at anything that got too close. Russia’s defence ministry claims the warship sank after an accidental fire detonated ammunition. But footage of the damaged vessel, which emerged on April 18th, seems to confirm Ukraine’s claim that it struck the ship. How could an underdog have inflicted such a significant naval loss?
Ukrainian officials said on April 14th that two Neptune anti-ship missiles had struck the Moskva. American officials corroborated their claims. The warheads were designed and manufactured in Ukraine, based on a Russian anti-ship missile known as Kh-35. Neptune missiles, which Ukraine says it fired from a mobile launcher on land, fly low over water. This makes them harder for their targets to detect, particularly at a distance. Hugging the Earth’s curved surface can keep a projectile out of a radar’s line of sight, at least for a while; waves, rain and even mist can interfere with radar pulses. But the Neptunes’ stealth is not matched by their speed. Unlike much anti-ship weaponry, they travel slower than the speed of sound.
The success of the attack can be attributed to clever tactics. Shortly before the attack, Ukrainian forces flew a Bayraktar TB-2 drone near the Moskva ship, a colonel in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, told the Economist. These drones, made in Turkey, have been very effective against Russian armored vehicles and artillery. Therefore, their presence above the Moskva can distract those on board, and at the same time distract the radar system. The colonel, who requested anonymity, claimed that the drone successfully distracted the crew while gathering information about the missile’s target.
If the drones could transmit information about Moscow’s position back to the missile, the Neptune’s radar wouldn’t have to be active for most of the time it’s close to the target. This is a big help. “Collecting information” on a warship using targeting radar can trigger an alarm. According to Pierre-Henri Chuet, a former fighter pilot with the French Navy, the missile’s radar can only be switched on during the last two minutes of its flight, which is five times longer.
The sinking of the Moskva also reflects the shortcomings of the Russians. The warship operated only 60 nautical miles from Odessa, with limited support from the rest of the fleet, perhaps because Russia underestimated the threat posed by Ukraine. The ship’s design also made it vulnerable. The ship’s 16 silos contain P-1000 « Vulcan » anti-ship missiles that are particularly vulnerable. Shards from Neptune’s attack may have ignited rocket fuel in the bunker, or detonated one or more warheads.
Despite insisting that the Moskva ship sank due to the accident, Russia still moved the remaining ships of the fleet away from the coast of Ukraine immediately after the incident. They also launched retaliatory attacks on Ukraine, including at the Neptune missile factory located near Kyiv. But now it will be more difficult for the Russians to provide air defense for their fleet. Turkey has closed the Bosphorus and Dardanelles Straits, blocking the way for additional warships, so Russia cannot send replacement ships. So an amphibious assault on Odessa looks much more risky. And, according to the colonel, Ukraine’s outstanding display of capabilities could encourage its allies to deliver more of the anti-ship missiles they have promised.