Denmark’s plan to send anti-ship Harpoon missiles and a launcher to Ukraine would provide Kiev with advanced weapons that could create a hole in Russia’s naval blockade, potentially allowing resumption of grain exports through the Black Sea.
The United States developed Harpoon missiles during the Cold War. They are highly versatile and can be fired from surface ships, submarines, aircraft and ground-based launch vehicles. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin did not specify what alternative to send to Copenhagen, but the 2013 Boeing Missile Guidelines by manufacturer Boeing states that the coastal defense system uses land-based alternatives.
Austin Harpoon praised Denmark for its contribution after a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group on Monday. Copenhagen did not comment publicly on the arms shipment, and the Danish Ministry of Defense did not immediately return a request for comment.
Harpons – which can cost upwards of 1 million per unit – are precision-guided weapons that require GPS coordinates to strike. Alexei Muraviv, a Russian military expert at Curtin University in Australia, said Kyiv could use the intelligence provided by NATO resources to target.
There are examples of such assistance. Washington has provided Kiev with maritime intelligence that helped sink the Russian Black Sea Fleet flagship, Moscow, in April, creating a “huge problem” for Moscow, he said.
Malcolm Nance, a veteran of the Navy and a counterterrorism expert who volunteered for the Ukrainian military last month, Said on Twitter Ukraine could use its Turkish-designed Bayraktar TB2 drone to support the target.
Some experts have suggested that Russia may see such NATO moves as increasing, but Nance has downplayed that risk. “What will they do? Invasion of Ukraine? He wrote.
One obstacle for Ukraine is the difficulty of integrating US-designed missiles into its coastal defense system, which is based on Soviet technology, Muraviv said. He said it could take months for Harpoon to deploy against the Kremlin’s Black Sea Fleet.
Harpoon has been compared to a javelin, a tank-destroying weapon that Ukrainian troops have had a great influence against Russia. They are part of Taiwan’s arsenal, a self-governing East Asian island with a multi-million dollar arms purchase agreement from Boeing. Some parallels have been drawn between Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the threat posed by Taiwan to its much larger, nuclear-armed neighbor, China.
Biden has taken an aggressive stance towards China during his Asia tour
If Kiev’s forces are properly trained and the missiles are properly assembled on its platforms, harpoons could force Russian ships to stay off the coast of Ukraine. This could mean an improvement in the fight against global hunger: Ukraine was one of the world’s largest exporters of wheat and corn in 2020, and the weakness of the Russian blockade could boost world food supplies and reduce food prices.
But Muraviev warned that Russia might react to Ukraine’s use of harpoon, possibly intensifying efforts to take Odessa, a major Black Sea port still under Ukrainian control. This will force Ukrainian fighters to move more internally and away from Russian ships.
He said Moscow could rely more on its submarines because harpoons were originally designed to hit surface ships.