In another blow to Russia’s navy, missiles from Ukraine blasted a Russian rescue tug June 17, social media footage shows. It happened near Snake Island in the northwest Black Sea. One Ukrainian source said the munitions were Harpoon anti-ship missiles that eliminated the small ship, although the strike may have come from other types of ship-killing weapons. The videos show the vessel succumbing to a massive fireball.
Details Are Emerging
Two missiles crashed into what is believed to be the Russian Project 22870 rescue tug Spasetel Vassily Bekh. Newsweek and Reuters are still trying to verify the video that is thought to be taken by a Bayraktar TB2 drone after it fed targeting data to the missile system on shore.
The Tug Had Manpower and Supplies to Reinforce Snake Island
The missile strike may have occurred as many as 19 miles from Snake Island, but the Kyiv Post said the ship was tied up at port and unloading material while it was hit. The Ukrainian navy said on Twitter that the 1,600-ton rescue tug was transporting ammunition, weapons, and personnel to supplement Russian troops on the island. The small ship also had a Tor anti-aircraft system on board. An additional unconfirmed source said on social media that 10 people on board are missing and 23 are wounded.
Looks Like Anti-Ship Missiles
In the video, the missiles are flying low and horizontal to the sea, leading media sources to claim that the interceptors were Harpoons, but they could have been Neptune or Brimstone anti-ship missiles.
Russia Keeps Losing Ships
The Spasetel Vassily Bekh is the 14th ship Russia has lost since the beginning of the war. This includes patrol and amphibious ships, plus the big prize, the Moskva guided-missile cruiser that was also the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet.
Is Ukraine Mastering Its Shore Defense Assets?
Let’s say the scenario that involves the TB2, and Harpoon missile scenario is true. That would be a significant development for the Ukrainian military and a chain of events that Russia should fear. The last missile strike has embarrassed Vladimir Putin’s navy. It means the defenders have not only figured out how to use the Harpoon adroitly, but they have also integrated the TB2 drone into the mix. The Ukrainians have engaged in unmanned and manned combat and executed these systems in a potent combination. I was earlier concerned that the Ukrainians would not be able to master the Harpoon quickly, but the defenders have delivered.
Russia May Have to Revise Its Naval Strategy
Russian ships that are currently in blockade mode off the Ukrainian coast will have to stay out of range of the Harpoon system, which can strike 80 to 150 miles out. The Harpoons will be layered with Neptunes and Brimstones that give the shore defenses even more punch. The latest strike shows the Russian navy continues to have difficulty against Ukraine and will likely not risk its naval shipping in an amphibious attack against Odessa, for example, without first destroying Ukrainian anti-ship missiles. The tug had an air defense system on board, and this did not protect the Vassily Beck, which begs the question: Can the Russian navy shield itself against anti-ship missiles?
This also means that Volodymyr Zelenskyy will continue to ask for more Harpoon systems from the United States. The Americans may also be providing satellite overflight imagery to the Ukrainians so they can track the Russian Black Sea fleet. Then Ukraine can fly an attack/recon drone like the effective TB2 to send targeting data back to shore defenses. This attack on the rescue tug is good news for Ukrainian morale. It also validates its shore defense tactics and portends more ship-killing strikes against Russia.
1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.