NO: DELENG / 2017 / 70663
official media partner of national maritime foundation
"Moscow"–The drowning ofthe Russian flagship / Dr. CDR (ret.) Eyal Pinko


The Russian flagship sailed in the waters of the Black Sea, about 16 nautical miles off the coast of the Ukrainian city of Odessa. It was the night of April 13, a cold winter night, a storm raging in the sea.

Under the command of the well-known captain, the ship's crew operated the radar and detected numerous air targets, including fighter jets and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

Meanwhile, not far away, a battery of two vehicles came out of hiding. One carries a large and sophisticated naval radar and a marine command and control system. The other was a launching vehicle withfour anti-ship missiles.

The battery was quickly deployed and placed itself in less than three minutes. The radar began operating and detected targets at sea, including the Russian flagship, The Moscow.

Meanwhile, at sea, on the Russian ship, radar operators have located two Turkish UAVs, which are operated on the battlefields of Ukraine day after day, helping Ukrainian land forces detect and identify targets, such as tanks, armored vehicles, and Russian force concentrations, in order to fire Rockets and other weapons were fired at them. The UAVs flew over the sea like what appeared to be a patrol mission.

The Ukrainian control vehicle directed the UAV operators in the ship's direction to get a clearer picture of the target's identity andits deception. The UAV images were transmitted back to land. The Russian flagship was identified with certainty. Its identity could not be mistaken.

The second Ukrainian vehicle, the missile launcher, began preparations. The launcher carrying four Neptune missiles rose, stabilizing in the direction of the target. The missile system operator received the exact location of the "Moscow" from the control vehicle and began the missiles' launching process.

The process was short, about three minutes, and missiles were fired at the target. After less than two minutes, at least one missile hit its target. The Russian flagship began to burn, with further explosions due to the flare-up of the 16 missiles onboard.

A few hours later, in a rescue attempt, the ship sank in the waters of the Black Sea, and with it, about 280 sailors were killed, along with the ship's commander.

It was a dizzying success for Ukraine and its naval forces. The sinking of the Russian flagship is a significant strategic achievement, creating a deterrent to the Russian Navy, which operates off in the Black Sea on several missions.

The first mission of the Russian Navy was to create a naval blockade on Ukraine and prevent supplies from other countries.

Second, The Black Sea navy ships and submarines' mission was to operate as artillery platforms toward quality targets on land. The Russian Navy's third mission was to allow free and safe shipping of Russian merchant ships to and from the Black Sea, including vessels carrying oil and gas. Finally, in front of Odessa, Russian landing ships with Russian Marine forces are still waiting for the command to carry out naval flanking and maneuvering from the sea to the mainland.

How then did it happen that one of the best and most advanced vessels of the Russian Navy sank from a missile hit and failed to defend against it?


From the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the Russian Navy operated almost unhindered and carried out its missions with practically no significant threat. Navy ships succeeded in creating the naval blockade of the Aegean and Black Seas. Its presence there created a significant dilution of NATO and EU naval forces. None of the countries wanted to enter into a confrontation with the Russian Navy. Furthermore, the Russian Navy createdfreedom of navigation for Russian merchant ships and had many successes firing missiles from various vessels at land quality targets throughout the fighting days.

Thus, in my estimation, from the beginning of the war, the Russian Navy developed an operational and intelligence conception that there was no threat to it and that it could operate relatively peacefully in the Black Sea.

The second reason, in my opinion, for the Ukrainian success is the saturated sky with targets. The airborne radar operators on the Russian ship were accustomed to detecting multiple targets in the air - aircraft and UAVs. The Turkish UAVs operating in the area were probably identified and tracked in the time before the missiles attack.

But, not all aerial targets had identification by the Russian ship. Moreover, it is even likely that not all the aerial platforms operated their Friend-Fow identification system.So there was an inherent difficulty in identifying the aerial targets, especially the missiles flying in a low trajectory (20-25 meters above sea level) toward the ship.

Furthermore, from the photos of the damaged ship, it would be correct to assume that the ship was with its bow facing the shore; it appears that the ship was standing with its long side facing the shore. Thus, the coverage of the hard defense systems, the anti-missile guns, is not optimal and does not allow completedefense against missiles. It would even be reasonable to assume that the electronic warfare systems were off. But as mentioned, the crew operated the ship with the feeling that there was no significant threat to it in the ranges the ship operated offshore.

This issue connects us to perhaps the main reason for the Russian failure - intelligence.

The Ukrainians began developing the Neptune missile many years before the war. In 2015, the missile was presented at an exhibition.The Ukrainians invested a huge budget and resources in its development. However, the Neptune missile is not a genuine Ukrainian development, andit is based on the Russian missile known as URAN or KH-35 (or NATO SS-N-25). The Russian missile, which has a range of 300 km, is an old missile that entered service in the Russian Navy in 2003 and in other navies, such as the Indian and Vietnamese navies. During the years, the missile was upgraded several times, and it has been equipped with advanced technologies such as a coherent seeker.The missile carries a 145 kg warhead, and it flies at a velocity of about 0.9 Mach.

The Russian missile was nicknamed the "Harpoonsky" in the West due to its remarkable resemblance to the American"Harpoon" missile. It is likley to assume that some Russian missile components are similar to the American thanks to technological espionage made by Russian intelligence agencies.

Some of the major components of the Uran, such as the homing seeker, have been developed and manufactured in Ukraine over the years, so the Ukrainian missile development did not actually begin from scratch.

Before the current war, the Ukrainians did not declare the Neptune missile an operational missile. However, it seems that the war accelerated the operational processes and allowed the Ukrainians to test the pre-mature missile in the best experimental field - the battlefield.

The Russian military intelligence, the GRU, probably failed to assess that the Ukrainian defense industry and Navy would make fast efforts to complete the operational phase and use the "un-operational" missile system. Therefore the GRU estimated that Russian navy ships could operate at ranges from shore, where there is no threat from the Ukrainian artillery (such as the 122mm Grad rockets) and did not consider a real threat from Ukrainian coastal missiles.


Readers may ask themselves whether the article was written about the attack on the Israeli Navy Ship the "Hanit" (Spear) in July 2006, during the Second Lebanon War, off the coast of Lebanon. The "Hanit"was hit by a Chinese missile, assembled in Iran and operated by Hezbollah's naval unit with the assistance of ​​Iran's Revolutionary Guards Navy.

There are many similarities between the events and the reasons for the ships' hit.

The poor Russian intelligence assessment, the perception of operational security, and the Navy's superiority led the Russian naval forces to operate in the Black Sea, under the understanding that there was no significant naval threat (other than artillery and sea mines) to their vessels.

The threat underestimation of Russian intelligence may have been based on a misunderstanding of the Ukrainian navy and its capabilities, or perhaps even more likely, on a wrong analysis of the intelligence surprises expected for the Russian Navy in its operational activities in the Black Sea.

The deadly connection between wrong intelligence assessment, poor operational perception, and perhaps even arrogance led to my assessment of the attack on the "Moscow," the symbol of the Russian Navy's power.

It is worth noting here that from the point of view of the Ukrainian Navy, this is an impressive achievement on several levels. The first is the ability to use an un-operational missile system during a brutal war, in which heavy destruction was inflicted on cities, military bases, and national infrastructure, such as the defense industry.

The second achievement is operatingquickly and without exposure by taking out the missile battery from a concealed shelter, detecting and identifying the traget, launching the missiles, and returning the battery to a hiding place in one piece.

The third achievement is the ability of Ukrainian forces to close very fast fire circles between the ground battery and the UAV operators, which are used not only to detect, identify and mark targets but also to create deception and diversion from the real firingsource.

The "Moscow" event is another reminder of intelligence perception and assessment failuresabout adversaries and theircapabilities and thinking about intelligence surprises. It is also a reminder that the commander's role in the field is to conduct operational situation assessment based on intelligence assessment and operational risk management, even if it exacerbates or contradicts the intelligence assessment.

The preoccupation with intelligence surprises and the operational risks management under surprise situations has once again proven itself of paramount importance to militaries and security forces.

Sea And Coast