On February 24th, 2022, the Russian Federation initiated their border crossing and air assault operations over the Ukrainian border with 100 Kalibr Cruise Missile strikes. A majority of these missiles came from the nearly 20 Kalibr capable surface and sub-surface combatants of the Russian Black Sea Fleet and supporting vessels from the Northern and Baltics Fleets. Since then, the Baltic Surface Action Group, once led by the cruise Moskva, now led by the Admiral Makarov, has kept a tight blockade on the remaining Ukrainian ports, namely Odessa.
Although Ukrainian Navy personnel are operating the R-360 Neptune anti-ship missile in the vicinity of Odessa, their dwindling stockpile has most likely been effectively suppressed by Russian air and sea-surface strikes. The sinking of the Moskva was a critical blow to the Russian Black Sea Fleet, but without foreign support in terms of anti-ship munitions, another successful strike is unlikely. In response to this fact, several U.S. and Norwegian lawmakers are currently deliberating how to get Harpoon and Naval Strike Missile to the Ukrainian military.
According to Storting member Ola Elvestwen: “Norway has our NSM anti-ship missile – a modern and powerful weapon that could change the course of the war of Russia against Ukraine. I believe that NSM should be delivered to Ukraine. The same applies to Norway’s leading NASAMS anti-aircraft missile systems, which should be delivered to Ukraine to strengthen its air defenses,” he said. Another Norwegian parliamentarian, Rasmus Hanson, also backed the idea of strengthening Ukraine and providing anti-ship and anti-aircraft defense systems, multiple rocket launchers, and artillery.
According to Devdiscourse senior U.S. intelligence personnel and lawmakers are currently deciding how they can get these weapons to the Ukrainians. While Congress has just passed the 40B USD military aid package, which includes M777 artillery and M142 HIMARS, the more complex anti-ship systems have not been included thus far. This is due to a litany of reasons:
- U.S. inventory of the RGM-84A (Harpoon) , which is the surface launched variant, may not be developed enough to give systems to the Ukrainians. The AGM-84A (air launched) and the UGM84A (submarine launched) have much higher stockpile levels than their land launched counterpart, mostly due to the availability of the Mobile Land Based Truck Platform.
- The United States and Norway are hesitant to provide such powerful area denial weapons to Ukraine due to concerns about escalation. Tactical weapons such as Javelin, Stinger, and M777, generally are limited in range and target tactical weapons systems. However, the Harpoon and NSM are designed to sink multi-million dollar warships that each hold hundreds of lives. The Russian Federation responded forcefully when rumors circulated about an American P-8 providing targeting date to the Ukrainian Navy Neptune battery that sank the Moskva. If American made Harpoons or NSM sunk a Russian vessel, the risk of escalation would be tenfold.
- The United States is genuinely concerned with Harpoon or NSM being captured by Russian forces in Ukraine. In the past 24 hours probing attacks have been carried out in Mykolaiv, if Russian Ground Forces attempted to overrun defenders there and make a campaign for Odessa, where those weapons would probably be placed, American advantages in anti-ship missile technology would be degraded if those weapon systems are captured intact.
The Harpoon is an all-weather, over-the-horizon, anti-ship missile which relies on an active-homing seeker, capable of seeking targets without support from external radars. Some variants have an advanced GPS support kit which allows external data link to guide the missile to within range of a target to activate the active homing seeker. The Harpoon is a sea-skimming missile, travelling no more than a few meters over the surface of the water. It carries a 488lb warhead and usually detonates with an impact fuse. The operational range of the missile is anywhere from 75nmi to 120nmi depending on the launch mechanism. It travels at a speed of Mach .71, but relies on its sea-skimming profile to circumvent ship-borne defenses. Due to the contested air environment in and around the Black Sea, Ukrainian planners would most likely receive the land launcher picture below.
Naval Strike Missile (NSM)
The Naval Strike Missile (NSM) is an anti-ship and land-attack missile developed by the Norwegian company Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace (KDA). It’s operational range varies from 100nmi to 300nmi depending on the profile mode, launch mechanism, and the guidance scheme. The NSW can rely on pure GPS, inertial, and terrain referencing during boost and midcourse. However, in terminal phase, the missile relies on pre-loaded images of targets or infrared homing. It carries a 125kg high explosive fragmentation warhead with a programmable fuse. Thus far, only Norway, the U.S., and Poland operate the NSW.
The transfer of these operational level weapons systems to Ukraine from the United States or Norway would require immense training to crews already stressed by the ongoing conflict. In order to facilitate that training, the Ukrainian service members would have to travel to Poland, receive at least two weeks of training, then operate them almost independently from the overall Ukrainian chain of command due to limited integration capabilities. Then those systems would have to survive the trip from Poland to Odessa, where they would actively be engaged in combat against the capable Black Sea Fleet, supporting tac-air, and further missile strikes, a daunting task indeed.