By Alexander Begej, Columnist
Photo by: Ukraine Defense and Security Council
The Ukrainian defense industry is on the verge of implementing several independently developed missile projects, which will enhance Ukraine’s tactical capabilities, strategic deterrence, and defense of maritime assets in the Black and Azov Seas.
Advancements in Ukraine’s missile program
Ukraine’s domestic missile program remained relatively stagnant until 2014. But Russia’s armed aggression in the Donbas coupled with a lack of a significant Western response prompted a revitalization of Ukraine’s military forces with a particular focus on its missile program. The US Javelin anti-tank weapons deal, approved by the State Department in February 2018, enhances Ukraine’s tactical defensive capabilities, but this long-awaited military aid leaves much to be desired. Specifically, the Ukrainian Armed Forces are still in need of advanced offensive and anti-ship weapons if they intend to sustain the fight against their Russian adversary. Several successful projects have emerged from Ukraine’s domestic missile program in pursuit of these capabilities:
- ‘Neptun’ – a subsonic cruise missile with a range of 300 km equipped with homing systems capable of striking targets on land, air, and sea. Expected implementation: 2-3 years. [i]
- ‘Hrim-2’ – a $40 million short-range ballistic missile system project, currently under construction for Saudi Arabia. It will have a range of 450-500 km and will be capable of destroying an area of 10,000 square meters. Expected implementation: 3-5 years. [ii]
- ‘Vilkha’ – a launch missile system that adjusts missile trajectory mid-flight, allowing it to penetrate defenses and accurately hit 12 separate targets in a single volley. Expected implementation: 3-5 years. [iii]
The latest project, Neptun, successfully conducted its first flight characteristics and systems operations test on January 30, 2018. Particularly impressive is Ukraine’s capacity to produce modern cruise and ballistic missile systems from start to finish without foreign assistance. This gives the Ukrainians complete autonomy over their missile program.
A much needed improvement
Successfully integrating these new missile systems into Ukraine’s arsenal will provide the tactical enhancements needed to deter further Russian aggression. Oleksandr Turchynov, Secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, emphasized that, “Powerful, high-performance cruise missiles that can accurately strike hostile targets at a great distance . . . are an important factor [to] restraining the aggressor.” [iv] Currently, Ukraine’s most powerful missile is the Tochka, an obsolete, Soviet-era tactical ballistic missile introduced in 1976. By modern standards Tochka performs poorly, offers a relatively short range of 120 km, and is incapable of thwarting a significant Russian assault. On the other hand, the power and precision of the Neptun, Vilkha, and Hrim-2 projects will provide Ukraine with both offensive and defensive missile capabilities, gradually restoring its missile shield. [v] Ukrainian Armed Forces will finally have the advanced anti-tank, anti-aircraft, and anti-ship capabilities needed to alter Russia’s cost-benefit analysis.
The next point of tension
Although the war in the Donbas remains a simmering, low-intensity conflict, Russia has begun actively pursuing greater gains in the Black and Azov Seas where its naval forces are met with little opposition. Anti-ship missile capabilities are a crucial countermeasure to Russia’s gradual encroachment on Ukraine’s exclusive maritime economic zones. The illegal annexation of Crimea stripped away 70% of Ukraine’s naval capabilities. Taking advantage of this weakness, Moscow has unlawfully seized eight of Ukraine’s maritime gas fields surrounding the Crimean Peninsula. Svetlana Nezhnova, head of the Ukrainian state-owned gas company, Chornomornaftogaz, claims that Russia has already extracted 7.2 billion cubic meters (bcm) of Ukrainian gas, estimated at a value of $1.72 billion, from the contested waters to legitimize their territorial and maritime claims. [vi]
Furthermore, Moscow has taken control of the Kerch Strait, which connects the Black and Azov Seas. On May 24, 2017, Russia imposed significant vessel restrictions that would disqualify 50% of the merchant vessels that passed through the Kerch Strait to dock at Ukraine’s southeastern ports in 2016. [vii] This poses a major obstacle to Ukraine’s economy as the strait is a popular transit point for the country’s mining and industrial sectors.
To defend its maritime interests against further Russian power moves, Ukraine will soon equip its coastal defense units with its latest missile technology, significantly raising tensions along the Black and Azov Seas. In Ukraine’s eyes, legal action against Russia will bear little fruit. A modern missile program shows the Ukrainian Armed Forces now stand ready to fight the Russian bear on any and all fronts.
[i] Sergei Zhurets, “Rocket potential of Ukraine (press conference),” Glavcom, February 2018, https://glavcom.ua/tv/raketniy-potencial-ukrajini-pres-konferenciya-470657.html.
[ii] 24 Kanal, “Thunder-2 – the best rocket complex of Ukraine since independence,” 24 Kanal, January 16, 2018, https://24tv.ua/grim_2__krashhiy_raketniy_kompleks_ukrayini_chasiv_nezalezhnosti_n913978.
[iii] Wartime Ukraine, “Ukrainian developers have created a unique weapon of distant action,” Wartime Ukraine, January 5, 2018,https://wartime.org.ua/28056-ukrayinsk-rozrobniki-stvorili-unkalne-ozbroyennya-dalekoyi-dyi-armya-zmozhe-rozshiriti-svoyi-zavdannya-oboronozdatnost-vdeo.html.
[iv] National Security Defense Council of Ukraine, “O. Turchynov: The first test of the Ukrainian cruise missile,” January 20, 2018, http://www.rnbo.gov.ua/news/2972.html.
[v] Center for Strategic and International Studies, “SS-21 ‘Tochka’ At a Glance,” CSIS Missile Defense Project, August 11, 2016, https://missilethreat.csis.org/missile/ss-21/.
[vi] OilReview Kiev, “Work on depletion: how does Chernomorneftegaz function after the loss of assets in the Crimea?” OilReview Kiev, February 14, 2018, http://oilreview.kiev.ua/2018/02/14/rabota-na-istoshhenie-kak-funkcioniruet-chernomorneftegaz-posle-poteri-aktivov-v-krymu/.
[vii] Ukrainian Independent Information Network, “Kerch Bridge Blung: blogger spoke about the serious problem of the Crimean bridge,” Ukrainian Independent Information Network, February 14, 2018, https://www.unian.ua/society/2394265-kerchenskiy-mist-prosiv-bloger-rozpoviv-pro-seryoznu-problemu-krimskogo-mostu-foto.html.