Russia Confirms 'Serious' Fire Damage to Guided Missile Cruiser After Ukraine Claims Strike

Hours after Ukranian state media claimed Russian capital ship Moskva (Moscow) had been hit by two missiles, the Russian state confirmed a fire onboard the cruiser had ignited stowed ammunition inflicting “serious damage”.

While the report from Russian state media outlet TASS fell short of acknowledging an attack had taken place, the admission that “A fire and subsequent broadside munitions blast have done serious damage to the Moskva missile cruiser” hours after Ukraine had claimed an attack on the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet at least confirms the ship has sustained serious damage.

The main armament of the Cold War-era Moskva cruiser is two enormous banks of anti-ship missiles, an unconventional design that gives the ship an easily recognisable layout above deck level. While the report from TASS that: “A fire onboard the Moskva missile cruiser caused a blast of the broadside munitions. The ship received serious damage” may imply it was this armament that blew up, a subsequent TASS report Thursday morning insisted the ship’s main armament was undamaged.

In the latest release, the Russian state claimed “The fire… has been localized and the explosions of ammunition on board have been stopped… No open flames are seen”. Russia said the ship was still afloat and was being towed to a port, and that the crew had been evacuated.

“The cruiser has retained buoyancy and its main missile systems are not damaged,” they claimed.

Picture provided by Ukrainian Armed Forces from state-owned defence equipment company Ukroboronprom of a ‘Нептун’ Neptune missile demonstration launch in 2021

Ukraine claimed Wednesday night that it had struck the warship with two “Neptune” (Нептун) missiles, a recent domestic development of a Cold War-era Soviet-designed anti-ship cruise missile. Shown in Ukrainian service, the truck-launched missile is the work of Ukrainian government-owned defence company Ukroboronprom.

Ukrainian area commander Maksym Marchenko is reported to have said: “The Neptune missiles guarding the Black Sea caused very serious damage to the Russian ship.”

If the attack on the Moskva is as described by Ukraine, the attack could be a serious blow to Russia’s prestige, and its presence in the Black Sea. While the ship is very much of the Cold War-era of naval technology and armament, recent photographs of the 1970s-vintage ship show it carries a variety of anti-air capabilities designed to defend it against exactly this sort of attack.

Weapons systems carried aboard the Moskva would be ‘Close in Weapons Systems’ (CIWS), a Russian equivalent to Western weapons like Phalanx or Goalkeeper, and surface-to-air-missiles (SAM) like Western RIM-66 or Aster. Both might reasonably be expected to shoot down incoming subsonic anti-ship cruise missiles.

While Russia has yet to confirm Wednesday’s fire was the result of enemy action, conceivably insisting the ship had spontaneously exploded could be more embarrassing, given the level of naval capability that would imply.

Cruisers like the Moskva are reasonably rare worldwide, with only a handful of global navies deploying ships of that size and capability. The United States Navy fields 1980s-era Ticonderoga guided missile cruisers, for instance, easily some of the largest and most powerful warships afloat.

Cruisers are distinguished from other, lesser warships by the nature of their role: while destroyers are often considered air-warfare defence specialists, frigates as geared to anti-submarine or anti-surface, cruisers are true multi-role. Beyond attack and defence roles, cruisers will have command and control facilities making them suited to ‘flag’ roles.

Sometimes, politics can get in the way of such distinctions, however. Britain’s 1980s-era aircraft carriers were officially referred to as “through deck cruisers” at the time as another programme of larger, more capable aircraft carriers had recently been cancelled and to use the name twice could have been embarrassing.

The opposite also appears to be occurring: the United Kingdom announced the next-generation of capital ship to replace its present fleet of modern warships last year, and although the designation certainly implies it will be a cruiser, the ship is described so far as a “super-destroyer”, possibly to avoid the impression of runaway spending.

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