On January 30, 2018, Ukraine conducted the first successful flight test of its new cruise missile Neptun, aimed at examining the functions of its solid-propellant thruster and launcher (Rnbo.gov.ua, January 30). The Ukrainian defense industry is currently implementing two essential missile projects—the cruise missile Neptun and the multiple launch missile system Vilkha (MLRS Vilkha). A state-owned company, SE State Kyiv Design Bureau “Luch,” is designing both projects. In addition to these missile projects, the SE Design Bureau “Pivdenne” is developing a new mobile short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) system Hrim-2.
Until 2014, Ukraine’s leadership mostly ignored the subject of developing missile weapons, although the military and design companies continually raised it. However, Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the armed aggression in the Donbas changed Kyiv’s defense thinking and made missile systems one of the priorities in strengthening Ukraine’s defense capabilities.
The Neptune project is a subsonic missile with a range of up to 300 kilometers (km) (Ukrinform, January 30). It is equipped with different types of target seekers to be able to hit various types of targets (112.ua, January 30). In general, ground, naval and airborne variants of this cruise missile are expected (Defense Express, January 26).
The Neptun project combines new ideas, proven solutions and dependable designs, already developed in Ukraine. This approach will significantly reduce the cost of its mass production preparations (112.ua, January 30, Glavcom, February 2). Experts estimate that within two to three years the Neptun missile will be brought to mass production and will be supplied primarily to coastal defense units, which today are in dire need of capable anti-ship weapons (Glavcom, February 2).
The project is of great significance for Ukraine. For the first time since independence, the Ukrainian army will receive an effective means to deter the enemy—the “long arm” capable of hitting targets at a maximum range with minimum use of missiles. At the same time, given the state’s limited financial resources, this cruise missile is the optimal solution according to the “cost-effective” criteria.
Vilkha is a modernization of the Soviet MLRS Smerch. The system’s parameters are not disclosed in detail, but it is generally known that its missiles would be able to hit targets at a distance of up to 120 km (Glavred, April 25, 2017). The critical feature of this project is the guidance system and the possibility of adjusting a missile’s trajectory when it is already in flight. With this, the flight adjustment is not carried out by GPS, whose signals could be suppressed, but rather by impulse engines. As a result, each of the 12 missiles of the volley can hit separate targets (Defense Express, November 6, 2017).
In 2017, all tests within the framework of this project were completed. In particular, during the recent tests in December, all four missiles hit their targets, which proved the high ballistic characteristics of the new missile, its guidance system, new solid rocket fuel and new missile frames (Unian, December 22). According to experts’ estimates, the arrival of Vilkha in the Ukrainian army is expected by 2019 (Apostrophe, February 1).
In addition to these missile projects, the SE Design Bureau “Pivdenne” is developing a new mobile short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) system Hrim-2, whose launcher and missile engine tests were shown in mid-January (24tv, January 16). Currently, the Hrim-2 project is carried out on behalf of a foreign customer. This imposes restrictions on its range, which, according to the manufacturer’s data, is 280 km. If developed for the Ukrainian army, the range of the new SRBM Hrim-2 could be increased up to 450-500 km (Defense Express, August 16, 2016; Wartime.org.ua, August 5, 2016).
According to experts, the production of the Hrim-2 system for the foreign customer could start in two years. The Ukrainian military has set their hopes on this system and expects that after the successful completion of all tests and the supply cycle for the foreign customer, the cost of upgrading it to their requirements will be significantly lower (Apostrophe, January 8).
Ukraine’s need for this SRBM is critical, as the state has been under attack. Currently, the most powerful system of the Ukrainian army is the Soviet tactical ballistic missile Tochka, which has a range of 120 km, but inferior accuracy. The Hrim-2 system, in its upgraded version to 450-500 km range, would be able to hit targets at distances three times farther than Tochka. At the same time, its accuracy and power will be much higher than those of its Soviet analog.
The creation of these missile systems is a timely solution that is entirely consistent with Kyiv’s current security and defense policy. Ukraine’s military doctrine says that by giving up its nuclear arsenal—one of the most powerful in the world—the country has the right to rely on the international community’s support for reinforcing its conventional defense capabilities. Meanwhile, Ukraine will use its existing military capabilities and reserves to guarantee state sovereignty and territorial integrity (Zakon3.rada.gov.ua, September 24, 2015, Segodnya, April 30, 2017).
The development and production of these three missile systems are of vital importance for Ukraine. First, these powerful, modern weapons systems will significantly increase the overall defense capability of the state. Second, according to the “cost-effective” criteria, these systems are currently the best solution developed by the Ukrainian defense industry. Third, the availability of such weapons to the Ukrainian military would both serve as a deterrent and would also have an extremely positive psychological significance. Fourth, the successful work on the missile systems shows that the Ukrainian defense industry has sufficient intellectual and productive capacities to implement such high-tech projects independently. This demonstration of capability is especially important as Russian propaganda claims that, without cooperation with Moscow, Ukraine’s defense industry has no chance of survival. And finally, the active oversight of the missile projects by the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine indicates the state’s interest and support for them, which in its turn suggests a good chance of their appearance in the Ukrainian army in due time.