September 21st night, the Ukrainian Defense Forces launched a missile strike on the russian Saky air base in occupied Crimea. So far, we know that the strike started with a saturation attack with drones, followed by the main weapon, a Neptun missile modified for reaching land targets.
The russian air defense did not succeed in intercepting the threats which raises the question of whether russia even has the technical ability to repel such strikes. To find out, we should turn to an interesting episode that Ukrainian Navy top commander Oleksii Neizhpapa told the Wall Street Journal in April 2022.
Commenting on the current war situation in the Black Sea as of 2022, Neizhpapa said Neptun anti-ship missile basically underwent performance tests with real targets, namely russian navy warships. At the time, the Black Sea Fleet of the russian federation was blocking the Ukrainian ports and trying to find an opening for a landing operation near Odesa.
The general confirmed that before the famous attack on the Moskva cruiser, the flagship of russian fleet, Neptun anti-ship missile first had a try on Admiral Essen, a russian frigate. The ship got hit and although it did not sink, Admiral Essen suffered damage and several personnel of the crew got injured.
And here's an important detail: during the attack, russians on the frigate deployed electronic warfare systems for self-protection. This means air defenses failed them in the moment of need.
Now the question: why sea-based air defense systems couldn't take down an anti-ship version of Neptun or two. The answer is quite ambiguous.
Let's go back to Moskva cruiser. The warship had 64 silos for naval S-300F Fort anti-aircraft missiles, four Osa-MA missile systems, and six AK-630 6-barrel 30mm miniguns.
But available photos show none of those weapons was at least activated into combat-ready position, moreover, cooking off of anti-aircraft missiles inside the ship might have sped up the demise of the cruiser.
A possible explanation would be that all the radars on Moskva did not see the hostile missiles coming, so the air defense systems didn't receive the command to open fire.
As for Admiral Essen and its protection measures, it has two AK-630 guns and two Shtil-1 launchers each having 12 tubes for 24 total 9M317 missiles, the same type as the ones used by Buk-2M ground-based systems. The russians declare that Shtil-1 can take down air targets on distances from 2.5 to 50 km, altitudes from 5 m to 15 km, firing out interceptors once every two seconds.
However, those air defense systems were not able to repel Neptun either, especially since the russians turned to EW measures of self-defense instead of anti-aircraft missiles.
There we have it: in both cases, naval air defenses could not counter Neptun missiles. On the other hand, these two episodes do provide not enough data to draw any general conclusion. That is partly because the known instances of Neptun ever being used are too few, and there is no detailed information from performance tests that essentially turned into "trial by fire."
However, these examples of Moskva and Admiral Essen at least confirm that some of the overhyped russian naval air defenses turned out not as capable as declared by russians.
Earlier Defense Express pointed out that the Ukrainian Navy might have gotten first complete Neptun missiles only after the beginning of the russian invasion of Ukraine, as follows from the interview with navy commander Neizhpapa.
Read more: Ukraine's Neptun is Not the Only Missile Transformed into LACM But Definitely One of Very Few