Ukrainians who reportedly sank a Russian warship in June with Western-supplied weapons had received training sponsored by the U.S. and allies just a week or two earlier, according to the U.S. undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment.
While speaking at the Defense News Conference on Wednesday, Dr. William LaPlante said that Ukraine had been given Harpoon anti-ship missiles by a U.S. ally he did not specify. A $1 billion Ukraine aid package that the Pentagon announced on June 15 included two Harpoon coastal defense systems. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also announced in May that Denmark had agreed to provide Ukraine with Harpoon missiles and a launcher, Reuters reported.
LaPlante said that the ship-based missile launchers were taken off of the unidentified ally’s ship and modified so that they could fire from a flatbed truck, Defense News reported.
“Brought the Ukrainians to train on it over Memorial Day weekend in our country, and in the next week or two Russian ships were sunk,” he said. Memorial Day this year fell on May 30.
Western-supplied weapons have become a widely talked about element of Ukraine’s ongoing war with Russia, which has stretched on for more than six months. Ukrainian and U.S. officials, for example, have repeatedly touted the use of American-supplied High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) against Russia.
The Defense News report identified the ship that Ukraine used Harpoon missiles to sink as the Vasiliy Bekh, a Russian naval tugboat. Ukraine said in mid-June that it had struck and taken out the Russian vessel as it was heading to Snake Island in the Black Sea. Ukraine’s navy specified that the Russian boat had been carrying soldiers, weapons and ammo to the island when it was hit by two Harpoon missiles, according to Reuters.
Ukraine announced later that month that it had recaptured Snake Island from Russia, though Moscow said that it had withdrawn as a “gesture of goodwill.” Noting the end of Russia’s occupation of Snake Island, a senior U.S. defense official said during a July 1 briefing that “Ukrainians were very successful at applying significant pressure on the Russians, including by using those harpoon missiles that they recently acquired to attack a resupply ship.”
“And when you realize how barren and deserted Snake Island is, you understand the importance of resupply. So the Ukrainians made it very hard for the Russians to sustain their operations there, made them, you know, very vulnerable to Ukrainian strikes,” the official said. “So that is, of course, is why Russia left the island and, you know, this isn’t a panacea of course but it does make it a lot easier to defend Odesa and in the future to be able to open up those sea lanes without Russia controlling Snake Island.”
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