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Harpoon missiles are now making a big difference in the Russia-Ukraine War: Ukraine scored another victory in the Black Sea on Friday, sinking a Russian rescue tug, which was described as carrying ammunition, weapons, and personnel to reinforce Russian troops on the occupied Zmiinyi (Snake) Island. The Ukraine Navy took to social media early in the day and announced that it had hit the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet’s Project 22870 rescue tug Vassily Bekh with Western-supplied anti-ship missiles. Specifically, the much-touted Harpoon anti-ship missile.
“The Navy of the Armed Forces of Ukraine struck another ‘no analogues’ – a tug with SAM ‘TOR’ on board. The tugboat of the Black Sea Fleet ‘Vasiliy Bekh’ was hit in the Black Sea during the transportation of ammunition, weapons and personnel of the Black Sea Fleet to Snake Island,” the Ukrainian Navy (@UA_NAVY) tweeted in the early hours of Friday morning.
The Ukrainian military had also published a video on the Telegram app of what it claimed were two Harpoon missiles hitting the small vessel. The footage has not been independently verified, but it appeared that the rescue tug was struck as it was tied up at a pier.
“During the full-scale war in the Black Sea, (anti-ship missiles) were used twice, first the (Ukrainian-made) Neptune, and today, June 17, the Harpoon. Both uses were successful. At the same time, the air defense of Russian ships proved to be entirely ineffective,” the Armed Forces Strategic Communications Directorate announced.
There are unconfirmed reports that 10 of the 33 crew onboard are missing, while the rest may have suffered injuries. It remains unclear how many additional troops were being transported when the rescue tug was struck by the Harpoon missiles.
Harpoon Strikes Back
The strike on the rescue tug would be the first time Ukrainian officials have acknowledged deploying the Harpoon anti-ship platforms, which have been supplied by the UK and Denmark. It was just this week that the Biden Administration announced that two additional Harpoon launchers would be provided to Kyiv as part of the latest foreign aid package.
“A Harpoon is intended for coastal defense,” a Pentagon official said on Wednesday. “I think we’ve seen the negative impacts that, you know, the Russian blockade of the Black Sea has had, and continued Ukrainian fears about Russia targeting Odesa and other critical ports around the Black Sea. So this is a capability that provides them significantly stronger deterrence.”
The RGM-84L-4 Harpoon Block II missile – which Danish and Ukrainian media outlets had reported as operational in Ukraine in May – is a NATO-standard long-range weapon with a reported range of 300 km (186 miles).
Another Russian Vessel Sunk
The Vasiliy Bekh is the 14th Russian vessel lost in the region since the war began. It is one of Project 22870 rescue tubs that were laid down and launched at the Astrakhan shipyard between 2014 and 2019 for service in the Black Sea Fleet and Caspian flotilla. A seventh is reported to currently be under construction.
The tugs aren’t technically warships, but rather are intended to help recover damaged vessels at sea. Each is equipped with emergency medical facilities as well as manned and unmanned ARS-600 submersibles, which can dive to depths of 60 meters to assist in submarine rescue operations.
ВМС ЗС України уразили черговий “аналогов нет” – буксир із ЗРК “ТОР” на борту
В акваторії Чорного моря було уражено буксир чорноморського флоту “васілій бех”, під час транспортування ним на острів Зміїний боєприпасів, озброєння та особового складу чорноморського флоту.
— Військово-Морські Сили ЗС України (@UA_NAVY) June 17, 2022
The sinking of the Vasiliy Bekh follows the loss of the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet flagship Moskva, which was hit by two Neptune missiles on April 13. It subsequently sank in stormy weather while being towed to port. In early May, Ukraine also sunk a Serna-class landing craft and two Raptor-class patrol boats in an attack on the occupied Snake Island using drone strikes.
Experts Suprised By Speed of Harpoon Strike
Speaking exclusively to 19FortyFive, Harry J. Kazianis, national security expert and President of the Rogue States Project, was surprised how fast Ukraine was able to set up, train, and attack with Harpoon missiles. “Any modern weapon like a Harpoon takes time to train on, deploy and use in battlefield conditions. While I am not shocked, I am quite astonished how fast they were able to use these weapons against Russia.”
Now a Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.