Officials claimed the White House is attempting to put modern anti-ship missiles in the hands of Ukrainian forces to assist them breach Russia’s naval blockade, amid concerns that more powerful weaponry that may sink Russian warships would escalate the battle.
Ukraine has made no secret of its desire for more modern US capabilities beyond its current arsenal of artillery, Javelin and Stinger missiles, and other weapons. Kyiv’s list, for example, contains missiles that might force the Russian navy away from its Black Sea ports, allowing grain and other agricultural product shipments to resume globally.
Two U.S. officials said the United States was working on potential solutions that included pulling a launcher off of a U.S. ship. Both missiles cost about $1.5 million per round, according to experts and industry executives.
About 20 Russian Navy vessels, including submarines, are in the Black Sea operational zone, the British defense ministry has said.
The Harpoon is an all-weather, over-the-horizon, anti-ship missile developed and manufactured by McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing Defense, Space & Security). The AGM-84E Standoff Land Attack Missile (SLAM) and later AGM-84H/K SLAM-ER (Standoff Land Attack Missile – Expanded Response) are cruise missile variants.
The regular Harpoon uses active radar homing and flies just above the water to evade defenses. The missile can be launched from:
1. Fixed-wing aircraft (the AGM-84, without the solid-fuel rocket booster)
2. Surface ships (the RGM-84, fitted with a solid-fuel rocket booster that detaches when expended, to allow the missile’s main turbojet to maintain flight)
3. Submarines (the UGM-84, fitted with a solid-fuel rocket booster and encapsulated in a container to enable submerged launch through a torpedo tube)
4. Coastal defense batteries, from which it would be fired with a solid-fuel rocket booster.
In 1965 the United States Navy began studies for a missile in the 45 kilometres (24 nmi) range class for use against surfaced submarines. The name Harpoon was assigned to the project. The sinking of the Israeli destroyer Eilat in 1967 by a Soviet-built Styx anti-ship missile shocked senior United States Navy officers, who until then had not been appreciative of the threat posed by anti-ship missiles.
In 1970 Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Elmo Zumwalt accelerated the development of Harpoon as part of his “Project Sixty” initiative, hoping to add much-needed striking power to U.S. surface warships such as the Ticonderoga-class cruiser.
The first Harpoon was delivered in 1977; in 2004, Boeing delivered the 7,000th.
The missile has various variants;
1. Harpoon Block 1D
This version featured a larger fuel tank and re-attack capability, but was not produced in large numbers because its intended mission was considered to be unlikely following the Dissolution of the Soviet Union. Range is 278 kilometres.
2. SLAM ATA (Block 1G)
This version, under development, gives the SLAM a re-attack capability, as well as an image comparison capability similar to the Tomahawk cruise missile; that is, the weapon can compare the target scene in front of it with an image stored in its onboard computer during terminal phase target acquisition and lock on.Block 1G missiles AGM/RGM/UGM-84G; the original SLAM-ER missiles were designated AGM-84H and later ones the AGM-84K.
3. Harpoon Block 1J
Block 1J was a proposal for a further upgrade, AGM/RGM/UGM-84J Harpoon (or Harpoon 2000), for use against both ship and land targets.
4. Harpoon Block 2
The key improvements of the Harpoon Block II are obtained by incorporating the inertial measurement unit from the Joint Direct Attack Munition program, and the software, computer, Global Positioning System (GPS)/inertial navigation system and GPS antenna/receiver from the SLAM Expanded Response (SLAM-ER), an upgrade to the SLAM.
Harpoon Block II missiles are designated AGM/RGM/UGM-84L.
5. Harpoon Block II+
On 18 November 2015, the U.S. Navy tested the AGM-84N Harpoon Block II+ missile against a moving ship target. The Block II+ incorporates an improved GPS guidance kit and a net-enabled data-link that allows the missile to receive in-flight targeting updates. The Block II+ entered service in 2017.
The main specifications of the missile system are:
Primary function: Air-, surface-, or submarine-launched anti-surface (anti-ship) missile
Air-launched: 3.8 metres (12 ft)
Surface and submarine-launched: 4.6 metres (15 ft)
Air-launched: 519 kilograms (1,144 lb)
Submarine or ship launched from box or
canister launcher: 628 kilograms (1,385 lb)
Diameter: 340 millimetres (13 in)
Wing span: 914 millimetres (36.0 in)
Maximum altitude: 910 metres (2,990 ft) with booster fins and wings
Range: Over-the-horizon (approx 50 nautical miles)
AGM-84D (Block 1C): 220 km (120 nmi)
RGM/UGM-84D (Block 1C): 140 km (75 nmi)
AGM-84E (Block 1E): 93 km (50 nmi)
AGM-84F (Block 1D): 315 km (170 nmi)
RGM-84F (Block 1D): 278 km (150 nmi)
RGM/AGM-84L (Block 2): 124 km (77 mi)
AGM-84H/K (Block 1G / Block 1J): 280 km (150 nmi)
Speed: High subsonic, around 850 km/h (460 knots, 240 m/s, or 530 mph)
Guidance: Sea-skimming cruise monitored by radar altimeter, active radar terminal homing
Warhead: 221 kilograms (487 lb), penetration high-explosive blast
Unit cost: US$1,527,416
Russia has already suffered a great loss in the Black Sea. Last month, the Russian warship Moskva in the Black Sea was sunk in an attack by Ukraine. However, Russia claimed that the warship, armed with killer missiles, exploded due to fire in its ammunition.
The Moskva sinking has led to Russia halting its shore bombardments around Odesa and instead falling back to launch 2,000km-range Kalibr cruise missiles from their Kilo-class submarines, mostly based in Sevastopol.
Under the Montreux Convention that allows Turkey to shut the Bosphorus strait in times of war, Russia can no longer reinforce its fleet of 20 warships including an estimated four submarines.
If the Ukrainians retook Snake Island, whose defenders famously rebuffed the Moskva on the first day of the war, the Harpoon could reach to within a few kilometres of the Bosphorus, giving some protection to shipping exports.
The situation at the Black Sea can take an unexpected turn anytime.Russia will try it’s best to avoid any damage to its naval fleet.