US considers sending modern anti-ship missiles to Ukraine

US officials revealed that the White House is studying the direction of providing modern anti-ship missiles such as Harpoon and NSM for Ukraine to break the port encirclement.

Ukrainian officials have repeatedly expressed their desire to own more modern American weapons, not only with the current arsenal of defensive missiles such as Javelin, Stinger and M777 howitzers. Kiev has put anti-ship missiles on the list to mobilize reinforcements from the US, with the goal of pushing the Russian navy away from Ukrainian ports bordering the Black Sea, breaking the siege and resuming agricultural exports.

Theo ReutersIncumbent officials, former officials and sources in the US congress said that Washington is still afraid of the option to supply Ukraine with longer-range weapons and stronger firepower. New weapons require more training time, which entails maintenance difficulties and the risk of American weapons being accessed by Russian forces or by third parties. US officials are also concerned that providing Ukraine with weapons with more firepower will escalate and prolong the war.

However, Reuters today quoted three US officials and two congressional sources as saying that there are still two types of anti-ship missiles that Washington is considering sending to Ukraine. These are the Harpoon missile manufactured by Boeing and the Naval Strike Missile (NSM) jointly developed by Kongsberg and Raytheon.

The US can send these weapons directly to Ukraine or have an ally in Europe deliver them. Both types are worth about $1.5 million each.

Harpoon anti-ship missiles are launched from the US destroyer USS Fitzgerald during exercises in March 2016 near Guam in the southern Pacific Ocean.  Photo: US Navy.

Harpoon anti-ship missiles are launched from the US destroyer USS Fitzgerald during exercises in March 2016 near Guam in the southern Pacific Ocean. Image: US Navy.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky last month asked Portugal to help him with Harpoon missiles. However, this type of anti-ship weapon with a range of nearly 300 km is not easy to use. There are few platforms for launching missiles from land because the Harpoon is designed primarily for launch from the sea.

Two US officials revealed that the government is considering solving Ukraine’s difficult problem by transferring more launchers removed from US warships.

The British Ministry of Defense estimates that Russia has about 20 military ships, including submarines, operating in the Black Sea. Bryan Clark, a naval expert at the Hudson Institute, said Ukraine needs about 12-24 anti-ship missiles with a range of more than 100 km to threaten Russian warships and force Moscow to rethink its campaign to besiege the port.

Location of the Black Sea.  Graphics: Washington Post.

Location of the Black Sea. Graphics: Washington Post.

US officials say some countries are willing to send Harpoon missiles to Ukraine, but they are apprehensive about taking the lead. Washington’s European allies also fear Moscow’s retaliation if a Russian warship is sunk with their missiles.

NSM can be launched from land and has a range of about 250 km, with a training time of nearly 14 days. As a result, this weapon is seen as a less logistically demanding option than the Harpoon. NATO countries can provide Ukraine with mobile land-based launchers and move warheads from Norway.

In addition to anti-ship missiles, Kiev is also lobbying the US to support more multiple rocket launchers (MLRS) such as the M270 series developed by Lockheed Martin, with a range of more than 70 km. In recent weeks, Washington has agreed to send heavy weapons such as M777 howitzers to Ukraine.

Name (Theo Reuters)

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