Weapons: Ukrainian Innovations


September 3, 2023: Ukraine has long been a major developer and manufacturer of weapons and military equipment. Before 1991, when Ukraine was a part of the Soviet Union, these innovation and manufacturing capabilities were recognized and encouraged. Since independence in 1991 Ukraine has continued to encourage its defense firms to continue their work. This has resulted in several new weapons and upgrades for existing systems. One new weapon is a long range (nearly 200 kilometers) high-speed missile with a guidance and targeting system that can get past Russian electronic jamming and air-defense missile systems. The new missile, like many new Ukrainian weapons, doesn’t have an official name or details of its specifications and capabilities. That is normal for a weapon developed during a war and not seeking export sales. That will happen once the war is over and Ukraine offers its combat -tested new weapons to export customers.

The new missile was revealed as the mystery weapon used to destroy a Russian S-400 SAM (surface-to air missile) battery. This was not the first new Ukrainian missile design to be used against Russia.

In 2021 Ukrainian introduced its Neptune anti-ship missile and, starting two months after the 2022 Russian invasion, Neptune was used to cripple and eventually neutralize the Russian Black Sea Fleet.

Neptune was first used in April 2022 to attack and sink the 12,000-ton Moskva, flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet. Moskva was hit by two Neptunes. Russia denied this and said the explosions and fires on the Moskva were the result of an accident on the ship that damage-control efforts by the 500-man crew were unable to handle, leading to major ammunition explosions.

Moskva was directing operations off the Ukrainian port of Odessa at the time. As the flagship of the Black Sea fleet, Moskva had senior officers and their staffs on board to plan and direct Russian efforts to attack Ukrainian ports, especially Odessa, and turn Ukraine into a landlocked nation.

Russia later admitted Moskva sank while being towed back to its home port in the nearby Crimean Peninsula. Russia will not admit Moskva was hit by two Ukrainian anti-ship missiles because the Moskva had multiple defenses against such attacks. Apparently Ukraine used one or more of their Turkish TB2 UAVs to track and harass Moskva and that enabled the two Neptune missiles to get through and start the fires that the crew could not handle and led to the abandon ship order. Ukraine may also have used ECM (Electronic Countermeasures) on Moskva to enable the missile strike.

Russia tried to blame the loss of the ship on massive crew incompetence rather than admit the ship was hit by two Ukrainian missiles. To do so would also include crew incompetence; as in not turning on all the anti-missile defenses because they were distracted by the Ukrainian UAVs. It might also indicate that the missile defenses were inadequate. With the ship at the bottom of the Black Sea, the crew will have to explain what happened and why.

The Neptune is an upgrade of the Russian Kh-35 anti-ship missile. Ukraine played a major role in designing and supplying components for the Kh-35. That was because work on Kh-35, the Russian answer to missiles like the American Harpoon, began in the 1980s when Ukraine was still part of the Soviet Union and a major component of the massive Soviet weapons defense design and manufacturing industries. After the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union, independent Ukraine continued doing business with Russia and Kh-35 development was completed in 1996. The Russian Navy procurement budget was so small that Russia could not afford to buy Kh-35s until 2003, Meanwhile, Kh-35 was popular with export customers, who still account for most of the Kh-35s produced in Russia.

Ukraine decided they could improve the Kh-35 design and did so, completing that in 2019 and delivering missiles in early 2021 for use in coastal defense. Neptune was heavier than Kh-35, had longer range (300 kilometers), and a much better guidance system and several other unspecified improvements.

The Kh-35 is similar to the American Harpoon but lighter at 520 kg (1,150 pounds), compared to 728 kg and has less range; 130 kilometers compared to 224 for the latest version of Harpoon. The Kh-35 can also be fired from helicopters, aircraft or shore batteries. The Kh-35 had not been used in combat until the Ukraine war and turned out to be a competent anti-ship missile. The 870 kg Neptune was later used successfully against Russian transports and warships in the Black Sea.

NATO nations supplying Ukraine with weapons have noted that Ukraine manages to continue developing and producing new weapons while under constant attack by Russian missiles, and have agreed to joint-production and development deals inside Ukraine, some of them before the war is over. Ukraine had sought such co-op deals before the Russian invasion but there was little interest from NATO nations until they saw Ukrainian capabilities under wartime conditions.




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