On April 14, Ukraine once again shocked the world when it launched two Neptune anti-ship cruise missiles, scoring decisive hits that sunk the Russian Black Sea Fleet flagship Moskva. Named for the Russian capital Moscow, this once-symbol of Russian naval supremacy in the war on Ukraine carried a crew of roughly 500 and was fully equipped with an arsenal of anti-ship, anti-aircraft and air defense missiles. Despite its foreboding appearance, this pride of the Russian Federation was unable to defend itself against a small number ASCMs, and it paid the ultimate price.
The fallout from the Moskva sinking has been many faceted. First and foremost, it was a strategic success for Ukraine — taking Russia’s most lethal warship out of the war and forcing the remaining fleet to retreat farther away from the coast. Second, the sinking is an inescapable political problem for Russian President Vladimir Putin. His misinformation campaign within Russia, unable to suppress the news of this casualty, now must answer for this destroyed vessel and the well-being of its crew.
There is another message from this catastrophe, however, that both the U.S. Navy and Congress must consider when faced with making long-term spending decisions for our 21st century fleet: If a relatively low-cost, short-range missile such as Neptune can destroy one of the largest warships in the Russian Navy, how do we ensure that ships in our fleet are not doomed to the same fate?
This question becomes even more serious when considering the sophistication of China’s anti-ship missile technology, which significantly dwarfs the range and firepower of Ukraine’s Neptune missile. By way of comparison, the Neptune has a range of roughly 200 miles, travels at subsonic speed and has a warhead that is designed to cripple but not necessarily sink a large ship. China has anti-ship missiles like the Dong Feng 21, or DF21 — whose range is roughly 1,000 miles — and the DF26, whose range is roughly 2,500 miles.
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