On 15 March, Ukraine’s Ministry of Defence announced that the first NEPTUNE anti-ship cruise missile had been delivered to the Ukrainian Navy, thus bringing to a close the considerable period between the announcement and delivery of the capability.
Development of the NEPTUNE system began at some point in 2014 – most likely after the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation and the military aggression in the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine. A model of the system was first shown in public at the Arms and Security trade exhibition in Kyiv in September 2015, with the first trials taking place the following year.
The NEPTUNE system has been developed by the Kyiv-based Luch Design Bureau, and is a significantly improved derivative of the Soviet Kh-35 (AS-20 KAYAK), in service with the Russian Navy since 2003. The RK-300MC NEPTUNE mobile coastal defence system was developed to host the NEPTUNE anti-ship cruise missile, and was unveiled in 2019.
Kyiv seeks to improve its coastal defence capabilities with the deployment of NEPTUNE missiles that can destroy vessels displacing 5,000t, at ranges of 280-300km – enough to ensure coverage and protection of the nation’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). It is worth noting that, during the Russian military operation leading to the annexation of Crimea, the Ukrainian Navy lost more than 80% of its capabilities, making Ukraine practically defenceless in the Black and the Azov Seas, with the Russian fleet constantly encroaching on the Ukrainian EEZ.
During the transfer of the system, Ukraine’s Defence Minister, Andrii Taran, duly noted the goals and declared “Our task is to lock the NEPTUNE [systems], missile and patrol boats, as well as corvettes, into a single defence system that can repel the enemy from the sea.”
It would be difficult to disagree with the Minister, given that Ukraine has zero financial resources to invest in the creation of a fully-fledged Navy, involving massive procurement of a significant number of modern naval vessels and submarines. The ongoing US military aid, and contracts signed with the United Kingdom and France, aimed at the creation of the so-called ‘mosquito fleet,’ coupled with the development of national coastal defence capabilities, could become a solid defensive measure, preventing situations similar to the November 2018 Kerch Strait incident, when Russian FSB coast guard units fired on and captured three Ukrainian Navy vessels.
Denys Kolesnyk in Paris for MON