Ukrainian “Neptune” and its chance to break through to the goals

Means of the RK-360MTS complex. Photo of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine

On June 17, Ukraine tested a promising anti-ship missile R-360 “Neptune” in a full standard configuration. The two products are said to have successfully located the target and hit it with a direct hit. All this brings the final of development work and the arrival of the “Neptune” into service. Accordingly, the topic of the future deployment of such weapons and their capabilities in the context of the military-political situation becomes relevant.

“Neptune” from “Uranus”

Let’s remind, “Neptune” is a subsonic low-altitude anti-ship missile system for destruction of ships with a displacement of up to 5 thousand tons. The design is based on a rather old X-35 missile, used on various carriers, incl. with the ship complex “Uranus”. In the past, Ukrainian enterprises participated in the manufacture of the X-35 as suppliers of individual units. Now they had to master the production of other products, which resulted in a full-fledged rocket of local production.

In the current configuration for launching from a ground platform, the P-360 has a length of 5.5 m with a hull diameter of 380 mm; folding planes with a span of 1.33 mm are provided. The launch weight is 870 kg, of which 150 kg falls on the penetrating type warhead. The power plant includes a starting solid-propellant engine and a sustainer turbojet MS-400, based on the serial P95-300.

Start June 17, 2020 Photo by the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine

The speed of the Neptune rocket on the trajectory reaches 0.8-0.85 M, the flight takes place at altitudes of no more than 250-300 m with a decrease in the final section. Flight range – up to 280 km. So far, the product can only be used by the coastal missile system RK-360MTs, but the development of aircraft and ship modifications has already begun.

Production and deployment

By now, the plans of the Ukrainian command for the deployment and combat duty of new missile systems have become known. It is planned to build and put into operation three divisions of the coastal “Neptuns”. Each division includes six launchers with four anti-ship missiles on each, as well as six transport-loading and transport vehicles. The division simultaneously has three ammunition sets of 24 missiles each; one of them is ready for immediate use.

The production of experimental anti-ship missiles was carried out in the framework of the cooperation of several enterprises. Most likely, it will be kept for the series. Thus, the electronic systems are supplied by the Impulse plant (Shostka), the main engine is manufactured by the Motor Sich plant in Zaporozhye, the starting engine is supplied by the Pavlograd chemical plant, etc. Combat and auxiliary vehicles of the coastal missile system are being built on the KrAZ chassis with the involvement of various organizations.

Target after being hit by two missiles. Photo of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine

The ability of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense in a reasonable time not only to order, but also to pay for the required amount of ground vehicles and anti-ship missiles for a promising complex raises obvious doubts. 18 launchers and 36 auxiliary vehicles, as well as at least 216 missiles, so far seem to be an excessively large order, which is simply beyond the power of a country with limited financial capabilities.

In addition, production line problems are to be expected. Almost all the participants in the Neptune project are experiencing various problems of an economic, technological or other nature. Chronic lack of funding, obsolete production capacities and forced redundancies in personnel do not at all contribute to the rapid and high-quality execution of military orders.

Platform problem

Since the first announcements, the R-360 anti-ship missile system has been called a universal weapon for use on different platforms. They promised to create coastal, aviation and ship versions of the complex. However, to date, only one has been created, built on an automobile chassis. Prospects for other developments are vague. It is alleged that work on this topic has already begun, but the timing of their completion remains unknown.

One of the previous launches, 2019. Photo by Ukroboronprom Group of Companies

For the Navy, there are two variants of boats with anti-ship missile weapons. The first is the project of the 58260 “Lan” missile and artillery boat. The product with a length of 54 m with a displacement of 445 tons is proposed to be equipped with various weapons systems, incl. eight anti-ship missiles “Neptune” and related controls.

A further development of these ideas is the Vespa / Lan-LK missile boat project. The 640-ton boat should also carry artillery weapons of various calibers. 8 R-360 products remain the main striking agent. Some design differences are envisaged that increase the main characteristics in comparison with the “Lan”.

Back in 2015, it was decided to build three boats of project 58260 with delivery in 2018-2020. However, the project got stuck at the stage of development of working documentation, fundraising, preparation of construction, etc. As a result, “Doe” has not even been laid yet. Whether the situation will change in the future and whether the construction of such boats will begin is a big question.

The rocket after launch, the solid-propellant engine is still running. Photo by Ukroboronprom Group of Companies

The Vespa project was first presented in 2018, and the following year it was decided to build three units. The lead boat is planned to be accepted into the Navy in the next 2021. However, the “successes” of several previous projects raise doubts about the possibility of fulfilling the plans for the current one.

Earlier it was stated that by 2020 the Neptune anti-ship missile system could enter service with the Air Force. The main carrier of such weapons is planned to be the front-line bomber Su-24M. The possibility of its use by the An-148-300MP patrol aircraft, developed for naval aviation, was also considered.

According to known data, the number of combatant Su-24s in Ukraine is small – no more than 25-30 units. Several dozen more are in storage. The patrol version of the An-148 has not yet reached production and its prospects are doubtful. It is quite possible that the development of an aircraft modification of the R-360 missile will take a long time, and by the time it is ready, the situation with potential carriers will worsen.

Limited capacity

A low-altitude subsonic anti-ship missile can be a serious threat. However, the presence of a well-developed layered air defense, covering a ship’s warrant or a naval base, will make it possible to timely detect an attack and shoot down a missile at a safe distance. For this reason, such weapons should be used in the framework of massive strikes capable of “overloading” the enemy’s air defense.

Rocket version of the boat “Lan”. Graphics Ukrmilitary.com

In the near future, the Ukrainian army plans to receive up to three divisions of coastal complexes RK-360MTS, each of which can simultaneously launch up to 24 missiles. A joint strike of three divisions will send up to 72 missiles to targets. However, the real volley volumes at which the missiles will not interfere with each other are unknown. The ship and aircraft versions of the “Neptune” may not yet be considered due to the lack of real developments and results.

72 missiles from three divisions are a serious threat to any ship group or base. This number of anti-ship missiles is enough to create a high load on the enemy’s air defense up to the use of the ammunition load of the air defense missile system and the transition to defense with the help of artillery. In such conditions, individual missiles have a chance to break through to their targets and at least damage them and disable them.

There is no hope for a second volley. The enemy will make every effort to quickly detect and destroy coastal complexes performing reloading. In a number of situations, the solution to such a situation will be relatively simple and quick.

Model of a boat of the “Vespa” type. Photo Mil.in.ua

It should be borne in mind that Ukraine considers Russia the main enemy, and Neptune is created primarily to counter the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Taking into account the geographical, organizational, combat and other features of the Russian Navy, it is not difficult to imagine how the use of the RK-360MTS complexes could end up. Most likely, the first salvo of a separate launcher or battalion will be the last for them.

Continuous difficulties

Thus, the project RCC “Neptune” is faced with a host of problems that sharply limit its real potential. As a result, the Ukrainian authorities cannot seriously count on this missile and regard it as a convenient tool for political pressure and an argument in disputes with the “aggressor neighbor”.

As tests show, the P-360 product is indeed capable of striking surface targets and can be a fairly effective weapon. However, due to a number of objective factors, obtaining all the desired results is possible only with mass production, deployment and application. In addition, the results of using “Neptune” directly depend on the potential enemy’s ability to defend against such attacks.

The ability of the Ukrainian industry to build and supply the army with the required equipment to equip three new divisions, as well as a large number of missiles for them, within a reasonable time frame, raises fair questions. It is quite possible that the actual release of RK-360MTs and R-360 will be lower than planned and will drag on for several years. This means that even the limited potential of “Neptune” will not be fully realized.

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