Ukrainian forces who used Harpoon missiles to sink a Russian warship in June had US-sponsored training, a top defense official said on Wednesday.
Speaking at the Defense News Conference, the Pentagon’s Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Bill LaPlante revealed that the US and an unnamed ally provided Ukrainian forces with the Harpoon anti-ship missiles, which are manufactured by Boeing and used by the US and many of its allies.
The missiles were removed from the ally’s ship and then modified to be fired from a flatbed truck, LaPlante said.
“We got them off the ship, put them on some flatbed trucks, put the Harpoons, the modules on the flatbed truck, and then a different flatbed truck for the power source, connected a cable between it, figured out was exportable, brought the Ukrainians to train on it over Memorial Day weekend, in our country, over Memorial Day weekend, and the next week two Russian ships were sunk with those Harpoons,” LaPlante said, according to Defense One.
A spokesperson for LaPlante later confirmed to Defense One that the Ukrainians did not actually come to the US for training, but that the timeframe of the training was during the Memorial Day holiday weekend. It was not clear where, exactly, the Ukrainians were trained; the US has said it is keeping all of its uniformed troops out of Ukraine amid the fighting.
Ukraine’s military said in mid-June that it fired two Harpoon missiles and struck the Russian Navy’s Vasiliy Bekh tugboat — which was reportedly transporting ammunition, personnel, and weapons — in the Black Sea.
“This morning, our naval forces struck the Black Sea Fleet support vessel Vasily Bekh, with the TOR anti-aircraft missile system on board. Later it became known that he sank,” Odesa Regional Military Administration chief Maxim Marchenko said at the time.
The attack marked the first instance where Ukraine announced that it used Western-supplied weapons to destroy a Russian vessel. Ukraine used its domestically-made Neptune missile in April to sink the Russian cruiser Moskva, then the flagship of its Black Sea fleet.
Days prior to the tugboat sinking, the Pentagon announced that it would send truck-mounted Harpoons to help strengthen Ukraine’s coastal defense systems, as part of a massive military aid package.
Jake Epstein is a Junior Breaking News Reporter on the Speed Desk, based in Boston for Insider, where this first appeared. Prior, he worked at The Times of Israel, freelanced in the Boston area, and interned at CBS Boston. He graduated from Lehigh University with a degree in journalism and international relations in May 2020. At Lehigh, he was the editor in chief of the independent student newspaper The Brown and White.