The List

In a political balancing act, the White House is working to provide advanced anti-ship missiles to Ukrainian fighters to help them break Russia’s naval blockade. This is amid concerns that providing such powerful weapons capable of sinking Russian warships would serve to intensify the war.

A Harpoon anti-ship missile makes its way towards its target. Photo credit: navy.gov.au

It’s no secret that Ukraine wants all the advanced weaponry it can get from the United States to add to its arsenal of Javelins, Stingers, and mobile field artillery. Zelensky’s wish list includes the types of missiles that could keep Russian war ships away from its Black Sea ports, thus allowing shipments of grain and other agricultural products to begin flowing to the rest of the world again. And it was a literal list that the Ukrainian President handed over. Harpoon missiles (made by Boeing) and Kongsberg and Raytheon’s Naval Strike Missiles are on it.

There is a widespread and growing international fear that the blockade by Russia’s Black Sea Fleet may lead to global famine. Anton Gerashchenko, a Ukrainian ministry of internal affairs advisor, addressed that issue recently on Twitter. He said that the “US is preparing a plan to destroy the Black Sea Fleet.” Gerashchenko continued, “Deliveries of powerful anti-ship weapons are being discussed.”  

The Big Stick Theory

Bryan Clark, a naval expert at the Hudson Institute, explains how he sees it:

“Twelve to Twenty Four anti-ship missiles like the Harpoon with ranges over 100 km would be enough to threaten Russian ships and could convince Moscow to lift the blockade. If Putin persists, Ukraine could take out the largest Russian ships, since they have nowhere to hide in the Black Sea.”

US Congressional sources report that several countries are ready to send missiles, such as the Harpoon, to Ukraine, but they are holding back and waiting. No one wants to be the first to piss Russia off if one of their missiles is used to sink a Russian ship.

I like to look at this situation in the form of an analogy. For the sake of argument, let’s say you have a crazy next-door neighbor (maybe his name is Ivan) who is hell-bent on coming over and doing you and your family harm. He’s so nuts that the delivery people won’t even stop at your place anymore, and that sucks because you get most of your food from Uber Eats. Up til now, you have had no good way to defend yourself, but your buddy from work has a good idea. He advises you to go out and find a big solid stick. One of those shillelagh-looking deals that’s like a club on the end. Hell, he’ll even give you a couple of them that he has just lying around.

You take him up on his generous offer, and order a pizza. When the pizza guy gets there and your neighbor pokes his head out of his door ready to threaten everyone within an inch of their lives, get a Mel Gibson in Braveheart crazy look in your eyes, show him the stick and make damn sure he knows you are prepared to bash him over the head with it if he threatens to come over to your place again or try to prevent deliveries. Not wanting to suffer a traumatic brain injury, your bully of a neighbor decides it’s probably best to mind his own business, so he just sits on his porch, like a dog put in its place.

It’s the same with Ukraine and Russia. Once Russia realizes that Ukraine has Harpoons and Naval Strike Missiles, they’ll keep their fleet in port and out of range of the big stick that travels at over half the speed of sound. The Russians can’t afford to lose any more vessels, and the Ukrainians would be all too happy to sink their ships with their new multi-million dollar weapons.

Problem solved.

The US may send Harpoon and Naval Strike missiles to Kyiv. Video courtesy of YouTube and Crux.

As you may have read, the US Congress has recently approved the allocation of another 40 billion USD of aid to Ukraine. Last Saturday, members of the G7 nations (US, Canada, Germany, UK, France, Italy, and Japan) agreed to provide ongoing financial and military support to Ukraine for as long as they must fight off Russian aggression. On the ninth of May, US President Joe Biden signed into law a lend-lease program for Ukraine. This gives the US government the authority to lend or lease defense articles to Ukraine and other Eastern European nations that have been affected by Russia’s war of aggression.

Top of the List: The Naval Strike Missile

The $2,194,000 “big stick” Naval Strike Missile has an operational range out to 345 miles. Enough to keep the bad guys in port. Image Credit: nationalinterest.org

The Naval Strike Missile (NSM) originated in Norway and has been in service since 2012. It is manufactured by Kongsberg Defense and Aerospace and Raytheon. The NSM can be used for land attacks as well, as it can climb and descend with the land using its terrain-reference navigation system.   Its 276 lb high explosive blast fragmentation warhead can sink whatever the Russian Navy can sail in front of it.

Rather than using radar to track and hit its target, the NSM uses passive a infrared sensor that gives off no RF energy that can be detected by the target.  It is able to fly at very low altitudes and execute erratic high G maneuvers to throw off close-in weapons systems cannons that fire in front of a missile on its predicted flight path. The NSM has a selective targeting system that can aim at specific points on a ship, like its bridge, propulsion, and steering compartments, or its magazines.  The Titanium warhead’s design can also be set to explode on contact or deeply penetrate the target vessel’s hull before exploding.

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The NSM is also a modular system able to be bolted onto US ships like the Littoral Combat Ship or vehicles like the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle.  It can also be air-launched by the F-16 and work is being done to fit it the Navy’s F-35 fighter as well.  So unlike most other anti-ship missiles, the NSM can be launched by air, land, and sea.

The Harpoon

Structurally, the missile consists of four parts; instrument (head) and tail compartments, combat unit, marching engine. Image Credit: en.missilery.info

Harpoon missiles are a bit older than the NSM, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are the most successful anti-ship missiles in the world, capable of sinking just about anything in the Russian Navy. The Harpoon is an all-weather, over-the horizon anti-ship missile system. It features a low-level, sea-skimming cruise trajectory and active radar guidance. The missile can be launched from surface ships, submarines, shore batteries, or aircraft. In case you were wondering, each one costs around $1.4 million. They are either 12.5 or 15 feet long, depending on whether you are using the air-launched, or surface/submarine-launched variant. In both cases, their wingspan is 3 feet.

The weapon carries a 488 lb warhead and makes its way to its target at Mach 0.71 out to 120 nautical miles depending on how it is launched.

These types of weapons are exactly what’s needed to deter the Russian naval threat and open up Ukrainian ports once again.  It may well be their mere presence would be enough to keep what remains of the Russian Black Sea’s Fleet in port.