Exclusive: US aims to arm Ukraine with advanced anti-ship missiles to fight Russian blockade

The United States Navy Arleigh-Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur launches a Harpoon surface-to-surface missile during Pacific Vanguard Quadrilateral (PACVAN) exercises between Australia, Japan, Republic of Korea and naval forces in the Philippine Sea on May 26, 2019. Photo taken May 26, 2019. US Navy/Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class Toni Burton/Handout via REUTERS

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WASHINGTON, May 19 (Reuters) – The White House is working to get advanced anti-ship missiles into the hands of Ukrainian fighters to help defeat a Russian naval blockade, officials said, as more powerful weapons that could sinking Russian warships would escalate the conflict. .

Ukraine has made no secret of wanting more advanced US capabilities beyond its current inventory of artillery, Javelin and Stinger missiles and other weapons. kyiv’s list, for example, includes missiles that could draw the Russian navy away from its Black Sea ports, allowing the restart of shipments of grain and other agricultural products around the world.

Current and former U.S. officials and congressional sources have cited barriers to sending more powerful, longer-range weapons to Ukraine, which include lengthy training requirements, difficulty maintaining equipment, or concerns that American weapons could be captured by Russian forces, in addition to the fear of an escalation. Read more

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But three US officials and two congressional sources said two types of powerful anti-ship missiles, the Harpoon made by Boeing (BA.N) and the Naval Strike Missile made by Kongsberg (KOG.OL) and Raytheon Technologies (RTX. N) were in active consideration of either a direct shipment to Ukraine or a transfer from a European ally who owns the missiles.

In April, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called on Portugal to provide the Ukrainian army with harpoons, which have a range of up to almost 300 km.

But several problems prevent Ukraine from receiving the missiles. On the one hand, there is a limited availability of platforms to launch harpoons from the shore – a technically difficult solution according to several officials – because it is primarily a sea-based missile.

Two US officials said the United States was working on potential solutions, including removing a launcher from a US ship.

About 20 Russian Navy ships, including submarines, are in the Black Sea operational zone, the British Ministry of Defense said.

Bryan Clark, a naval expert at the Hudson Institute, said 12 to 24 anti-ship missiles like the Harpoon with a range of more than 100 km would be enough to threaten Russian ships and could convince Moscow to lift the blockade. “If Putin persists, Ukraine could take out the biggest Russian ships because they have nowhere to hide in the Black Sea,” Clark said.

Russia has already suffered losses at sea, including the sinking of the cruiser Moskva, flagship of its fleet in the Black Sea.

WHO GOES FIRST?

A handful of countries are reportedly willing to send harpoons to Ukraine, U.S. officials and congressional sources said. But no one wants to be the first or only country to do so, fearing retaliation from Russia if a ship is sunk with a harpoon from their stockpile, the third US official said.

This US official said a country is considering being the first to supply the missile to Ukraine. Once this “well-supplied” nation commits to sending harpoons, others could follow, the official said.

The Naval Strike Missile (NSM) can be launched from the Ukrainian coast and has a range of 250 km. It also takes less than 14 days of training to operate.

The sources said the NSMs were considered less logistically difficult than the harpoons, as NATO allies could loan available mobile land launchers and warheads from Norway.

The first two US officials and congressional sources said the US was trying to find a way for Ukraine to obtain MSNs and launchers from European allies.

Congress sources said another option would be for Norway to donate NSM to Ukraine, an idea backed by Norwegian MPs. The Norwegian Ministry of Defense declined to comment on additional contributions of weapons and defense equipment it may consider offering to Ukraine.

All requests for weapons with American content, such as harpoons and NSMs, would have to be approved by the US State Department, which follows advice from the White House.

Multiple Rocket Launch Systems (MLRS) such as the M270 made by Lockheed Martin (LMT.N) which can hit a target 70 kilometers or more away, are another weapon high on Ukraine’s shopping list , a threefold increase over many of their current howitzers. Sleeves. Read more

In recent weeks, the Biden administration has instead moved to send M777 towed howitzers that could be deployed more quickly and shipped in larger quantities, the two US officials said.

The two US officials said the M270 or a similar system like the M142 HIMARS would be considered for shipment to Ukraine once Congress passes a $40 billion supplemental funding bill that would authorize an additional $11 billion in funding. presidential levy authority. This allows the president to authorize the transfer of surplus weapons from US stockpiles without congressional approval in response to an emergency. Read more

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Reporting by Mike Stone in Washington; Additional reporting by Andrew MacAskill in London and Victoria Klesty in Oslo; Editing by Chris Sanders and Daniel Wallis

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