FIRST KILL – Harpoon Missiles Sink Russian Navy Vessel; US Military Analyst Calls It A ‘Big Deal’

On June 17, Ukraine’s Navy claimed a significant victory after hitting another Russian ship near the infamous Snake Island, an outpost seized by the Russian Navy early in the war.

The Ukrainian Navy released a video of the devastating attack on the Russian rescue tug Spasatel Vatsily Bekh. The video shows two missiles striking a vessel nearly 19 miles east of Snake (or Zmiinyi) Island. 

The tug boat was said to be delivering weapons and soldiers from the Black Sea Fleet to Snake Island. Ukrainian officials claim that the Russian rescue vessel, Spasatel Vatsily Bekh, was struck by two Harpoon missiles, making this the weapon’s first effective combat use by Ukrainian forces. 

Apparently, a Bayraktar TB2 drone recorded the footage and was used to transmit the coordinates of the Russian ship. 

According to a Ukrainian regional official, land-based Harpoon anti-ship systems recently given to Ukraine by the US and Denmark carried out the strike. It appears to be in line with the video’s sea-skimming cruise missiles. 

The Vasily Bekh was allegedly armed with a Tor-M2 series surface-to-air missile (SAM) system, but it had failed to avoid the attack. This defense system is becoming standard on Russian warships operating in the Black Sea, particularly around Snake Island and the island. 

The vessel’s and its crew’s whereabouts are unknown. One unverified Ukrainian source claims that the strike “affected” “70% of the crew of the tugboat,” with the fate of the remaining crew unknown. 

File Image: Vladimir Putin and
Sergey Shoigu

A Major Setback For Russia?

The Vasily Bekh is a Project 22870 class rescue tug, with a total length of 187 feet and a displacement of around 1,200 tons. It is one of six boats built as part of the project. Meanwhile, one more ship is reportedly under construction. 

The tugboat will aid in the recovery of damaged ships in the sea. That involves providing fire fighting equipment to assist in fires on damaged vessels before towing them to port.

The Bekh also features emergency medical facilities and unmanned and manned ARS-600 submersibles that can dive to 60 meters to participate in submarine rescue missions. 

Even though the ship lacked intrinsic armament, the Vassily Bekh had a Tor-M2MK short-range air defense vehicle on its deck as an improvised air defense system. 

The attack comes after the loss of the Moskva, which Russia initially blamed on a storm-caused weapons explosion. It might be seen as another massive setback for Russia in the war, which has already lost many tanks and armored vehicles. 

Moskva Damaged Sinking Ukraine Black Sea Russia
Moskva in the Black Sea after the explosion. Twitter

In an interview with CNN, Military analyst Lt. General Mark Hertling (Retd) described the latest attack as a “big deal,” saying, “Ukraine currently does not have a navy, and they are defending their shoreline even though Russia is claiming that they own all the ports along the Azov sea and most of those along the black sea.”

“This is a big deal, just like all the others, which might be considered small victories. They will continue to do this, especially as they get more and more anti-ship weapons,” Hertling added. 

Harpoons Missiles

Since its introduction into US Navy service in 1977, the Harpoon missile has been the most widely used Western anti-ship weapon.

The latest variants of the Boeing-built turbojet-powered weapon have significantly increased range and guidance capabilities over the previous type. 

In late May, the shipment of ground-launched Harpoons to Ukraine and their critical launchers was announced. The United Kingdom had also provided land-based Brimstone anti-ship missiles to Ukraine.

File Image: Harpoon Missile

While Ukraine has its own locally manufactured Neptune anti-ship missiles, the pre-war stock was assumed insignificant. The Neptune missiles were credited for the successful Ukrainian strike on the ship Moskva in April.

The destruction of Moskva was considered a big humiliation for Moscow as it was the flagship of the Russian Navy Black Sea fleet.

The Black Sea serves as a strategic buffer between Russia and NATO. As a result, Russian dominance in the Black Sea region is a geostrategic need for Moscow, projecting Russian strength in the Mediterranean and securing trade access to crucial southern European markets.

Given its strategic importance, Ukraine does not want the area to be controlled by Putin’s forces.