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Harpoon: The Old Anti-Ship Missile That Is Headed to Ukraine

Harpoon
210123-N-VH871-1123 NAVAL AIR STATION SIGONELLA, Italy (Jan. 23, 2021) Aviation Ordnanceman 3rd Class Adam Vasquez, assigned to the "Grey Knights" of Patrol Squadron (VP) 46, installs an AGM-84D ‘Harpoon’ missile onto a P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, Jan. 23, 2021. VP-46 is currently forward-deployed to the U.S. Sixth Fleet area of operations and is assigned to Commander, Task Force 67, responsible for tactical control of deployed maritime patrol and reconnaissance squadrons throughout Europe and Africa. U.S. Sixth Fleet, headquartered in Naples, Italy, conducts a full spectrum of joint and naval operations, often in concert with allied and interagency partners, in order to advance U.S. national security interests and stability in Europe and Africa. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Austin Ingram/ Released)

United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin confirmed on Monday that following a meeting of 47 nations, new shipments of heavy weaponry will be delivered to Ukraine – including Harpoon missiles from Denmark.

In a press briefing, Austin said that he was “especially grateful” to Denmark for offering a Harpoon launcher and missile to help Ukraine defend its southern Black Sea coast.

What is the Harpoon, and Why Does It Matter?

While considered older and not exactly the most sophisticated weapon, the Harpoon certainly can cause a headache for any navy.

Denmark’s Harpoon missile system is an anti-ship missile launcher, and one of the most successful ever built. Introduced in 1975, the missile system has been used all over the world, with at least 7,000 units produced over the decades. The missile is comparatively inexpensive to produce, too, at around $1.65 million.

Using subsonic over-the-horizon sea-skimming missiles, this weapons system is designed to track its targets using radar. The missile can be launched from submarines, aircraft, shore batteries, and ships. It delivers a huge blast that can destroy large ships, thanks to its 2221-kilogram penetration blast warhead.

Several variants of the missile have been developed over the years. The AGM-84 is a version designed specifically for fixed-wing aircraft, while the RGM-84 is a surface-launched variant with a detachable rocket booster. The UGM-84 is designed for use by submarines, and the AGM-84E SLAM is an all-weather air-launched missile system that uses infrared-guided cruise missiles.

There is also an improved version of the AGM-84E SLAM, named the   AGM-84H/K SLAM-ER, which increases the missile range to 250km.

Why It Matters

The delivery of a Harpoon missile launcher and missiles fulfills a request from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for anti-ship missiles to help his soldiers fend off Russians on its southern coastline.

Tom Karako, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies described the move as an “important and measured step to increase Ukrainians’ capability and operational intensity against the Russians.”

Not only will the missiles assist Ukraine in fighting Russian ships, which may be used as platforms for firing long-distance missiles at mainland Ukraine, but they could also assist in the clearing of the ports. Some 22 tons of grain remain stuck in Ukrainian ports, with Russia refusing to allow the ships to leave without Western countries lifting some of the many economic sanctions levied against Russian financial institutions in recent months.

Denmark Refuses to Comment

Even after Austin publicly expressed his gratitude to Denmark for supplying new missiles to Ukraine, the Danish government refused to comment on the matter. The Danish government has so far not only refused to confirm what variant of the Harpoon missiles and missile systems will be sent to Ukraine but also refused to confirm the new plans altogether.

When approached for comment by the Wall Street Journal, Danish Defense Minister Morten Bødskov refused to offer any specifics about the deal but appeared to confirm that Denmark is working with the United States to ensure Ukraine gets the weaponry it needs.

“It is no secret that we donate weapons to Ukraine, and we also coordinate this with the United States and Ukraine,” the government minister said. “But I do not want to go further into questions about specific donations.” 

Jack Buckby is a British author, counter-extremism researcher, and journalist based in New York. Reporting on the U.K., Europe, and the U.S., he works to analyze and understand left-wing and right-wing radicalization, and reports on Western governments’ approaches to the pressing issues of today. His books and research papers explore these themes and propose pragmatic solutions to our increasingly polarized society.

Written By

Jack Buckby is 19FortyFive's Breaking News Editor. He is a British author, counter-extremism researcher, and journalist based in New York. Reporting on the U.K., Europe, and the U.S., he works to analyze and understand left-wing and right-wing radicalization, and reports on Western governments’ approaches to the pressing issues of today. His books and research papers explore these themes and propose pragmatic solutions to our increasingly polarized society.

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